Saleem Shahzad murdered by Pakistani security service

Saleem Shahzad had warned that the authorities might act against him and revealed a previous threat.

by Andrew Buncombe

A surge of outrage and grief jolted Pakistan last night after the discovery of the body of a journalist who had highlighted alleged links between al-Qa’ida and the country’s military, two days after he went missing in Islamabad. It appears he had been tortured and beaten before being killed and his body dumped.

Human rights campaigners, who have highlighted Pakistan as one of the most dangerous places for journalists to work, said they believed Syed Saleem Shahzad, the 40-year-old correspondent for Asia Times Online, had been abducted by the intelligence services after the publication of an article about a recent militant attack on a naval base. Mr Shahzad, who had previously been questioned by the InterServices Intelligence (ISI) agency, had warned the authorities might act against him and had even revealed a previous threat.

In an email to Ali Dayan Hasan of Human Rights Watch (HRW) last October, Mr Shahzad had forwarded details of a meeting when he had questioned by senior ISI officials over a an earlier controversial article. He had written: “Dear Hasan, I am forwarding this email to you for your record only if in case something happens to me or my family in future.”

The affable Mr Shahzad, who was married with three young children, went missing on Sunday evening after leaving his home in Islamabad to take part in a television news show where he was to discuss his latest report. He never arrived at the studios. His family contacted HRW the following day and Mr Hasan said that, through interlocutors, they learned he was being held by the ISI. They understood Mr Shahzad would be released by Monday evening.

But yesterday afternoon, reports emerged that Mr Shahzad’s car and identity card had been discovered near the town of Mandi Bahauddin, around 100 miles south of Islamabad. Soon after it was revealed local people had also found the journalist’s body, lying on the bank of a canal. Local reports said he had been shot. It is unclear how long the body had been there. A friend of Mr Shahzad who went to try and collect the body from the police station told The Independent it appeared he had been tortured and television images of the journalist also showed the journalist’s bruised face. “It’s very bad. His face was hit very badly,” said the friend.

The disappearance of Mr Shahzad, who also worked for the Italian news agency Adnkronos International, came just two days after the publication of his final article. In it, he had written that al-Qa’ida militants had infiltrated the naval forces at the Mehran naval air station in Karachi, which was attacked and besieged on May 22 in a confrontation that lasted more than 16 hours. It said the attack had been carried out after talks between the militants and the navy broke down. This week, it emerged Pakistani authorities had arrested a former naval commando, Kamran Ahmed Malik, and were questioning him over the attack and his alleged links to militants.

Mr Shahzad was known to have sources both within the Pakistan’s intelligence community and among Taliban and al-Qa’ida militants and had on one occasion interviewed militant leader Ilyas Kashmiri. Last October, the journalist had been called for a meeting at ISI headquarters after he had written an article that claimed the Pakistani authorities had released from custody Afghan Taliban military commander Mullah Baradar to negotiate with the Pakistan army.

Mr Shahzad said the mood at the meeting, at which he was asked for but declined to reveal the sources for his article, was polite but that at the end one of the senior officers had said to him: “I must give you a favour. We have recently arrested a terrorist and have recovered a lot of data, dairies and other material during the interrogation. The terrorist had a hit list with him. If I find your name in the list, I will certainly let you know.”

Mr Hasan said the journalist had taken the final words as a threat.

“He told me he was being followed and that he is getting threatening telephone calls and that he is under intelligence surveillance,” Mr Hasan told Reuters. “We can’t say for sure who has killed Saleem Shahzad. But what we can say for sure is that Saleem Shahzad was under serious threat from the ISI and [we have] every reason to believe that that threat was credible.”

One of the ISI’s media wing officials who attended the meeting and questioned Mr Shahzad was Rear Admiral Adnan Nazir, a naval officer.

When contacted last night, he declined to comment on either the meeting or the death of Mr Shahzad, saying: “I don’t speak to anyone.”

The killing highlights the perilous working conditions for journalists in Pakistan. The Committee to Protect Journalists said 11 media workers were killed in Pakistan in 2010 and that at least five had died already this year. As it was, the discovery of the journalist’s body happened on the day that friends and relatives of Salmaan Taseer, the assassinated governor of Punjab province, were marking what would have been his 67th birthday.

The journalist and analyst Ayesha Tammy Haq, who is a sister-in-law of Mr Taseer, said: “We were at the graveyard when confirmation of Saleem Shahzad’s death came. People were horrified and angry. Salmaan was murdered for speaking out. Saleem Shahzad was murdered for speaking out, for exposing terrors roots. Everyone at the graveyard and every thinking person in this country is saying enough. No more silence. No more giving in to fear.”

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani yesterday expressed his condolences and ordered an inquiry into the journalist’s death, though which organisation would be capable of such an investigation is unclear.

“Pakistan’s intelligence agencies face serious allegations that they been involved the numerous killings of activists, lawyers and journalists,” said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific director. “Early indications from this case suggest an alarming expansion of the ‘kill and dump’ operations previously seen mostly in the Balochistan province. The Pakistan authorities must hold those responsible to account and protect journalists targeted merely for doing their jobs.”

Mr Shahzad, who was originally from Karachi and had worked for a number of media organisations, had also completed a newly-released book, ‘Inside Al – Qaeda: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11’, that was published by Pluto books. Publisher Jon Wheatley said in a statement: “It is my sad duty to announce that Pluto author and international journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad, has been found dead in suspicious circumstances, two days after he went missing and three days after writing an article on possible complicity between al-Qa’ida and elements of the Pakistani navy.”

Extract: How Saleem Shahzad targeted al-Qa’ida

Al-Qa’ida carried out the brazen attack on PNS Mehran naval air station in Karachi on May 22 after talks failed between the navy and al-Qa’ida over the release of naval officials arrested on suspicion of al-Qa’ida links, an Asia Times Online investigation reveals.

Pakistani security forces battled for 15 hours to clear the naval base after it had been stormed by a handful of well-armed militants. At least 10 people were killed… before some of the attackers escaped through a cordon of thousands of armed forces.

An official statement placed the number of militants at six, with four killed and two escaping. Unofficial sources, though, claim there were 10 militants with six getting free. Asia Times Online contacts confirm that the attackers were from Ilyas Kashmiri’s 313 Brigade, the operational arm of al-Qa’ida. Three attacks on navy buses in which at least nine people were killed last month were warning shots for navy officials to accept al-Qa’ida’s demands over the detained suspects.

The May 2 killing in Pakistan of Osama bin Laden spurred al-Qa’ida groups into developing a consensus for the attack in Karachi, in part as revenge for the death of their leader… The deeper underlying motive, though, was a reaction to massive internal crackdowns on al-Qa’ida affiliates within the navy.”

By Syed Saleem Shahzad. Published on the Asia Time Online on 27 May

Source: The Independent

8 responses to “Saleem Shahzad murdered by Pakistani security service”

  1. After Repeated ISI Threats, Journalist Turns Up Dead in Pakistan

    Pakistani journalist Saleem Shahzad, an investigative reporter with a long history of work embarrassing to the government, had confirmed recently that he was threatened by Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency officials who told him his reports were “detrimental to Pakistan’s national interests.”

    So when he turned up missing this weekend, his family assumed he had been picked up by the ISI for a report about terrorist infiltration of Pakistan’s Navy, which came in the wake of the Karachi attack. They also assumed it was another warning, and he’d eventually be released unharmed.

    But this time, Shahzad was found dead in his car, near the capital city of Islamabad. He was 100 miles from his home, and his body showed signs of a savage beating. It is widely assumed this was the ISI’s handiwork as well.

    Of course the ISI has condemned the notion, saying it was “totally absurd” to suggest that the nation’s secretive military spy agency would be responsible for the killing. Still, the death will only add more uncomfortable attention to the shadowy agency, and will fuel distrust of its motives.

  2. Slain scribe was warned by ISI over terror reports

    Soon after Shahzad went missing on Sunday evening while on the way to a TV station from his Islamabad home, a representative of Pakistan’s Human Rights Watch, Ali Dayan Hasan, told the Daily Times of Pakistan that “credible sources” claimed Shahzad was apprehended by the ISI. Members of Shahzad’s family told the editor of Asia Times that many of Shahzad’s friends believed him to be in ISI custody and that he was “safe and would be released after 48 hours”.

    ” He told us that if anything happened to him, we should inform the media about the situation and the threats,” Hasan said.

    Shahzad had on several occasions been warned by ISI officers over his reports they considered ” detrimental to Pakistan’s national interest” . His last report on May 29 gave details of contacts between the Pakistan navy and al-Qaida operatives and how the terror group had infiltrated the Mehran base in Karachi and helped organize the devastating attack on May 22.

    Police said Shahzad’s body was found near his white Toyota Corolla car at Sarai Alamghir near Jhelum town. After police informed Shahzad’s family, a relative went to the site and identified the body. Shahzad’s family had earlier told the media that the description provided by police did not match with that of the missing journalist , which initially led to hope that he might be alive.

    While scores of angry and shocked journalists gathered at his Islamabad home to pay their last respects, there was no word from the government or the army on the killing and neither did any authority visit his home.

  3. Pakistan spy agency faces more heat after reporter’s killing

    (Reuters) – Speculation that Pakistan’s military spy agency had a hand in the death of a prominent journalist has further discredited the organisation already facing one of its worst crises after the killing of Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil.

    Saleem Shahzad, who worked for Hong-Kong based Asia Times Online and Italian news agency Adnkronos International, disappeared from Islamabad on Sunday and his body was found in a

    canal with what police said were torture marks.

    Suspicions immediately fell on the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, bringing more bad publicity after the killing of bin Laden by U.S. special forces near the capital. The raid, which Pakistan failed to detect or stop, shattered the myth that the agency is omnipotent.

    “The ISI’s image had already been tarnished and it is under so much pressure,” said a former ISI officer. “It’s never been as bad as this before.”

    Shahzad was investigating suspected links between the military and al Qaeda, a highly sensitive subject at a time when Washington is wondering how bin Laden was able to live for years in a town about a two hour drive from ISI headquarters.

    Human Rights Watch said Shahzad, a 40-year-old father of three, had voiced concerns about his safety after receiving threatening telephone calls from the ISI and was under surveillance since 2010.

    ISI officials were not available for comment. Analysts have not ruled out the possibility that he may have been killed by militants. Shahzad often wrote about al Qaeda and other groups.


    Pakistan has a vibrant press which often attacks the government over everything from corruption to poor services and economic stagnation.

    But criticism of the ISI or military is rare.

    Reporters say Shahzad’s death raises troubling questions about freedoms in Pakistan, which receives billions in aid from ally Washington and describes itself is a democracy.

    “It means we are being pushed to the wall and losing space to tyranny if the ISI carried this out,” said Umar Cheema, a journalist who knows all about the risks of investigating Pakistan’s security establishment.

    Last year, he was picked up by suspected intelligence agents, driven to an unknown location, stripped naked and whipped with leather and a wooden rod, he said.

    “Pakistan is my beloved country. But nobody is safe in Pakistan. I live in what I call self-imposed house arrest because I am scared to go out,” said Cheema.

    Shahzad was killed after he wrote a story that claimed al Qaeda attacked a naval base in Karachi last month after negotiations with the military to release two naval officials accused of militant links broke down.

    That assault further humiliated the Pakistani military.

    Some believe that with its loss of credibility after the bin Laden fiasco, and the naval base siege, the ISI may come under more public scrutiny for its apparent failure to tackle militancy and ease suicide bombings.

    “Fewer people believe that the ISI is this powerful agency. People will start asking tougher questions,” said Rifaat Hussain, head of the Department of Defence and Strategic Studies at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad.

    “They may be more willing to ask why the ISI is tapping the telephones of the opposition when it should be providing more security for the country.”

    But equally likely is that journalists will think twice about writing hard-hitting stories after Shahzad’s death.

    Others have died in similar circumstances in Pakistan, the world’s most dangerous country for journalists, according to Reporters Without Borders.

    “It is a death. The death of expression,” said Matiullah Jan, a correspondent with Dawn News television.

    “There is an apprehension in certain quarters that it’s meant to send a shut-up message.”

  4. Pakistan reporter killed after claimed threats

    (CBS/AP) KARACHI, Pakistan – Hundreds are mourning a Pakistani journalist slain this week after he reported being threatened by intelligence agents.
    Syed Saleem Shahzad wrote about terrorism and security for the Asia Times Online and other publications. Police said the 40-year-old’s body bore signs of torture when it was found Tuesday after he had been missing for two days.

    In a recent article, Shahzad claimed the Pakistani navy had likely been infiltrated by members of al Qaeda, reports The Washington Post. He claimed it was those insurgents who made it possible for militants to stage a deadly attack on a naval base.

    After that report, Shahzad told Human Rights Watch of threats from Pakistani intelligence officers. His funeral was held Wednesday in Karachi.

    According to the Post, Shahzad was found 100 miles from his home in the capital city with his face badly beaten.

    Pakistani is one of the deadliest countries for reporters. Journalists face threats from militants and security agencies.

  5. Mystery surrounding scribe killing deepens in Pakistan:
    The mystery surrounding the murder of Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad deepened today after it emerged that police had hurriedly buried his body after finding it in a canal in Punjab province on Monday. Following pressure from Shahzad’s family, a judge ordered the exhumation of the body.

  6. Autopsy shows 15 torture marks on Shahzad’s body

    ISLAMABAD: The brutality with which Syed Saleem Shahzad was killed emerged on Wednesday with details of the post mortem showing at least 15 torture marks on his body but no bullet wounds. The autopsy report said death was probably caused by a fatal blow in the chest region and TV images of his body showed deep bruises on his face.

    Angry reporters, friends and academics, who gathered for the funeral said the murderers not just wanted to kill him but also sent a more chilling message. “It was an attempt to silence a society,” said Adil Najam, a professor of International Relations and Geography in Boston University.

    “Saleem Shahzad’s killing bore hallmarks of previous killings perpetrated by Pakistani intelligence agencies,” said Ali Dayan Hasan of the Human Rights Watch in South Asia. He said Shahzad had been receiving threats from the ISI members, and had warned that if anything happened to him the media should be quickly informed.

    Details about Shahzad’s previous run-ins with the ISI also surfaced. He was reportedly summoned to ISI headquarters on October 17, 2010 to discuss his sources and the content of an article published in Asia Times Online, which alleged Pakistan had quietly released Afghan Taliban commander Mullah Baradar, Mullah Omar’s deputy, to take part in talks through the Pakistan army.

    As news of this meeting swirled in media circles, the state-run news agency, Associated Press of Pakistan, on Wednesday warned the killing should not be used to malign the country’s security agency in the eyes of the public.

    The reported meeting between the journalist and ISI officials of the Information Management Wing was to discuss a story he had done for Asia Online on October 15 and the meeting had nothing sinister about it, said an unnamed official quoted by APP. The ISI official warned that media should act with responsibility to avoid legal action.

    Shahzad’s torture and murder wasn’t an isolated incident. Last year, an investigative reporter of the Jung Group Umar Cheema was kidnapped while on his way to home in Islamabad. Later, he was tied and left on a highway, more than 100km from Islamabad. His captors had stripped him naked, tortured him and shaved his hair, moustache and eyebrows. Cheema had reported about the elite military commandos, who were court-martialed and imprisoned for calling for a political settlement of the Lal Masjid siege in 2007.

    “It is extremely risky for journalists to report about the country’s military establishment against its will. We have not developed the habit to critically write about the military and intelligence agencies,” said Amir Mateen, a senior journalist.

    Lala Hameed Baluch, another journalist, was found dead last year in Baluchistan’s Turbat town. He went missing in October while on his way home in the province’s port city of Gawader. His colleagues believe he was apprehended by Pakistani security officials, according to Huma Ali, former President of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ).

    Sensing the anger in the media, President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani ordered an inquiry into Shahzad’s abduction and murder but that failed to pacify those who knew him.

    “We want an answer. We need an answer. We deserve an answer,” said TV talk-show host Quatrina Husain.

    Hundreds of mourners, mostly relatives and journalists, turned out for Shahzads burial in his hometown Karachi as journalists in several cities held protest demonstrations. According to office bearers of journalist unions,black flags would be hoisted for three days at all press clubs in Pakistan.

    Shahzad, an investigative reporter, who extensively wrote on religious movements, militant groups and Pakistani armed forces, went missing from Islamabad on May 29, 2011, just days after publishing an article for the Asia Times Online on links the Pakistani Navy officers had with al-Qaida. The second part of his report, `Recruitment and training of militants’, has yet to be published by Asia Times Online of which Shahzad was bureau chief in Pakistan.

  7. akistani security official are behind the murdere of Saleem Sahazad but always remember truth never be hidden nor finish

    The killer of Saleem Shahzad has numbered and they will kill by v v bad way insha Allah