On February 1, 2002, the Jewish-American journalist Daniel Pearl was murdered in Karachi by Islamic terrorists, nine days after being kidnapped in the Pakistani city. The Mumbai-based South Asia bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal, Pearl had come to Pakistan from India as part of an investigation into Al-Qaida.
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Daniel Pearl was born in Princeton, New Jersey on October 10, 1963. His father, Judea Pearl, who was born in Tel Aviv to Polish-immigrant parents, is a computer scientist at UCLA in the field of artificial intelligence. Daniel’s mother, the former Ruth Rejwan, was born in Baghdad in 1935. She witnessed the Farhud, a 1941 pogrom against Jews in the Iraqi capital, and immigrated to Israel at age 15. She and Judea Pearl were electrical engineering students at the Haifa Technion — Israel Institute of Technology when they met.
In 1960, the Pearls moved to the United States to pursue graduate studies. Daniel, the second of three children, grew up in Los Angeles. He studied communications at Stanford University, where he cofounded a student newspaper and worked at the radio station. After graduating, in 1985, he worked at a number of newspapers before joining the Wall Street Journal in 1990. His first placement was in the New York paper’s Atlanta bureau.
Hard news and features
Pearl was known for his skill in writing both hard news pieces and the light but richly reported features for which the WSJ is acclaimed. In 2000, he and his wife, Mariane Van Neyenhoff Pearl, a French-born freelance journalist he had met in Paris in two years earlier, moved to Mumbai.
Pearl’s fateful trip to Karachi took place a little over four months after the 9/11 attacks. His assignment that January was to investigate the connections between Al-Qaida and Richard Reid, a British man who in December had tried to smuggle explosives onto an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami. A local fixer had arranged for Pearl a meeting at a Karachi restaurant on January 23 with a man who was said to have been Reid’s spiritual mentor.
Pearl never returned from that meeting, and it was five days before anything was heard about his whereabouts. That’s when journalists received an email with the kidnappers’ demands, which included the release of Pakistanis being held at the Guantanamo prison camp.
What became known only in the months and years following his gruesome execution was that Pearl’s kidnappers, a local group led by Omar Saeed Sheikh, had turned him over to Al-Qaida, specifically to 9/11 mastermind Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, who in the course of 183 waterboarding torture sessions at Guantanamo confessed to having slit Pearl’s throat.
In a video released on February 21, 2002 and titled “The Slaughter of the Spy-Journalist, the Jew Daniel Pearl,” Pearl addresses the camera in the moments before his death: “My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish,” he said, adding: “Back in the town of Bnei Brak, there is a street named after my great-grandfather Chaim Pearl, who is one of the founders of the town.” He remained proud and defiant to the end.
When Pearl’s remains were unearthed, nearly three months later, they revealed that after his death he had been decapitated and his body cut into 10 pieces.
Omar Sheikh was convicted of Pearl’s abduction and murder and sentenced to death — a sentence yet to be carried out. Three other men were sentenced to life in prison in Pakistan. Khaled Sheikh Mohammed has never been tried. An investigation by a team of journalists and academics calling themselves The Pearl Project concluded in 2011 that 27 people were involved in the crime, 14 of whom were still at large in Pakistan as of 2011.