The top al Qaeda operative accused of masterminding the Sept. 11 attacks either killed or took part in the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, Pakistan's president has alleged for the first time.
President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's claim, made in his memoirs released this week, could now be used to try to clear one of Pearl's four convicted killers, who is appealing his death sentence, the prisoner's lawyer said Wednesday.
Musharraf accused Khalid Sheikh Mohammed of taking part in Pearl's killing in Pakistan's largest city, Karachi, following the journalist's kidnapping on Jan. 23, 2002. Mohammed was arrested in Pakistan in 2003 and is in U.S. custody in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"The man who may have actually killed Pearl or at least participated in his butchery, we eventually discovered, was none other than Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, al Qaeda's No. 3," Musharraf wrote in "In The Line of Fire," released Monday.
Mohammed has never been officially linked to Pearl's murder during police investigations or the trial that resulted in four Islamic militants being convicted for the killing. One of the men was sentenced to death, and the other three to life in prison.
But some U.S. officials and The Wall Street Journal suggested that Mohammed had killed Pearl. Pakistan denied the claims at the time.
Musharraf also wrote that Mohammed helped lay the groundwork for the London subway bombings on July 7, 2005, and a plot to attack Heathrow Airport with hijacked passenger planes. It was the first public allegation linking Mohammed to the subway attacks, which killed 52 people and four bombers.
Rohan Gunaratna, head of terrorism research at Singapore's Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies, said it has long been understood that it was Mohammed who killed Pearl to prove to the West after Sept. 11 that al Qaeda was still bent on killing Americans.
"But Pakistan never officially acknowledged it because they did not want to risk letting the others in custody be released," Gunaratna told The Associated Press.
On Wednesday, Rai Bashir, lawyer for British-born Pakistani Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, said he will petition the Sindh High Court in Karachi within 10 days to let him introduce Musharraf's book as evidence in his client's appeal, which began in January 2003.
Sheikh and three other Islamic militants were convicted in July 2002 of killing Pearl. All have since appealed.
Bashir said he will try to use Musharraf's book to highlight contradictions in the prosecution's case against Sheikh, who has been sentenced to death. He declined to elaborate.
It was unclear if U.S. authorities would bring charges against Mohammed over Pearl's killing. A representative for Pearl's family declined to comment.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the U.S. government had evidence relating to Musharraf's assertion.
"We believe that it would be better and more appropriate to offer such evidence in the context of a military tribunal," McCormack said. "We hope, as the U.S. government that, once we do get legislation that governs those military tribunals, that we can be in a position to offer up evidence related to that (Musharraf's) assertion."
The Bush administration and the Congress are working on new procedures to interrogate suspects in the war on terrorism following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down the previous system of military trials.
Bashir said Musharraf referred to two men never charged in the Pearl killing — Mohammed and another detained militant suspect, Fazal Karim.
Musharraf alleged in his memoir that Mohammed, a joint Pakistani-Kuwaiti citizen, admitted after being captured to participating in Pearl's killing.
Musharraf also recounted the May 2002 arrest of Karim, an activist from the al Qaeda-linked Lashkar-e-Jhangvi group, who led investigators to Pearl's body and admitted to being involved in his killing.
Musharraf wrote that police had asked how Karim knew where Pearl's body was buried.
"Chillingly, he replied — without remorse — that he knew because he had actually participated in the slaughter by holding one of Pearl's legs," Musharraf wrote.
But Karim told police that he did not know the name of Pearl's actual killer, only that he was "Arab-looking."
At the time, police identified Karim as one of the men who located Pearl's body. However, the police officially refused to confirm details and never charged him in the murder.
Karim disappeared shortly after leading investigators to Pearl's shallow grave. In April 2003, he surfaced in a small-town jail charged with possessing outlawed drugs. His current whereabouts are unknown.
Karim's lawyer, Khawaja Naveed Ahmed, questioned why his client was not charged in Pearl's murder despite "incriminating evidence" disclosed in Musharraf's book.
Musharraf detailed in his book how Sheikh plotted to kidnap Pearl, who was in Pakistan researching a story on Islamic militancy, by making the journalist believe he had arranged an interview with a militant leader in Karachi. Pearl was kidnapped the day he arrived in Karachi, and his remains were found Feb. 21, 2002.