Daniel Pearl

Daniel Pearl

THE men convicted of murdering US reporter Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped and beheaded in Pakistan in 2002, were not the killers and US officials stood in the way of the real murderer being brought to justice, an investigation into his death has found.

Inquiries conducted by a former colleague of Pearl's found that British-Pakistani Ahmed Omar Sheikh and three other men who were convicted of killing Pearl were not even present when theWall Street Journal reporter was murdered.

The Pearl Project report, led by journalist Asra Nomani, says the man fingered in the report as the killer, al-Qaeda strategist and suspected September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, is unlikely ever to be brought to justice.

Federal officials decided in mid-2006 not to add Pearl's murder to Sheikh Mohammed's charges because it would complicate plans to prosecute him for the September 11 attacks.

The report says Sheikh Mohammed told US investigators at Guantanamo Bay prison that he slit Pearl's throat and severed his head. A technique called vein-matching has since shown that his hand matches that captured in a video of Pearl's murder.

''The Pearl Project reveals that justice was not served for Danny,'' said Nomani, from whose Karachi home Pearl set out on January 23, 2002, the day he was abducted.

Pearl thought he was heading to an interview with the alleged facilitator of Richard Reid, the British shoe-bomber on who tried to blow up a US-bound passenger jet over the Atlantic. Instead he fell into the hands of Pakistani militants who eventually handed him over to Sheikh Mohammed.

Nomani said there was little doubt that Omar Sheikh, now 37, was behind the kidnapping.

His appeal against a 2002 death sentence has been pending for nine years in Pakistan. There have been repeated reports that, thanks to his connections with Pakistan's ISI spy agency, he enjoys privileged conditions in jail.

While the conspirators in Pearl's abduction and slaying were ''inept'' and bungling, US and Pakistani investigators who worked the case were not much better, the report says.

They began the case ''chasing the wrong suspect, giving the killers time to slay Pearl and disappear''. They let a key informant go and failed to follow several potential leads.

Pearl's body was found four months later, cut into a dozen pieces. Of the 27 people involved in the kidnapping, four have been convicted, four are in suspected ISI detention, five have died and 14 are still free, Nomani said.