Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Missing Pakistan journalist Saleem Shahzad found dead near Islamabad

Shahzad's body was discovered less than two days after he was allegedly abducted by ISI, Pakistan's intelligence service
The journalist Saleem Shahzad was found dead with torture marks on his face and a gunshot wound to his stomach, according to Pakistani media. Photograph: Cristiano Camera/AFP/Getty Images

A prominent Pakistani journalist has been found dead on the roadside outside Islamabad, less than two days after he was allegedly abducted by the country's powerful military intelligence service.

Saleem Shahzad disappeared on his way to a television interview on Sunday evening. Human Rights Watch said it learned he been abducted by the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI).

Shahzad's body was found six miles from his car in a small hamlet on the edge of Islamabad. Local media reported that he had torture marks on his face and a gunshot wound to the stomach.

"This killing bears all the hallmarks of previous killings perpetrated by Pakistani intelligence agencies," said Ali Dayan Hasan of Human Rights Watch, noting that Shahzad had previously warned that his life was in danger from the ISI.

Hasan called for a "transparent investigation and court proceedings". Other journalists reacted angrily, directly accusing the ISI of responsibility.

"Any journalist here who doesn't believe that it's our intelligence agencies?" tweeted Mohammed Hanif, a bestselling author and BBC correspondent.

Shahzad, the Pakistan correspondent for the Hong Kong-based news service Asia Times Online, vanished two days after publishing a story alleging negotiations between Pakistan military officials and al-Qaida.

The story claimed that al-Qaida attacked the Mehran naval base in Karachi on 22 May in retaliation for the arrest of two naval officials with militant links. Al-Qaida had been secretly pressing the military to release the men, Shahzad said.

Pakistani security forces battled for 17 hours to contain the assault, during which at least four heavily armed men slipped into the base, blew up two American-built surveillance planes and killed 10 soldiers.

On Tuesday Pakistani media reported that military intelligence had picked up a retired navy commando and his brother in Lahore in connection with the raid. The detained men, who allegedly have militant links, were previously questioned in connection to an earlier militant assault.

Shahzad was abducted from central Islamabad on Sunday evening as he travelled to the studios of Dunya television to discuss his report on the naval base attack. The following day, after being alerted by Shahzad's wife, Hasan said he had been informed through "reliable interlocutors" that Shahzad was being held by the ISI.

Last October Shahzad sent Human Rights Watch an email saying he was afraid he would be killed by the ISI, Hasan claimed. In the email, intended to be released in the event of his death, Shahzad said he had been summoned to ISI headquarters in Islamabad to discuss an article about Mullah Brader, a Taliban commander captured in Pakistan with American help months earlier.

The two ISI officials Shahzad said were present at the meeting, Rear Admiral Adnan Nawaz and Commodore Khalid Pervaiz, were both naval officers. Last week Pervaiz was made commander of the Karachi naval base that was attacked.

"We believed [Shahzad's] claim that he was being threatened by the ISI is credible, and any investigation into his murder has to factor this in," Hasan said.

Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan called for a government inquiry into the "heinous crime", but avoided mention of the ISI, focusing blame on the "servile policies [of] a corrupt and inept government".

As a reporter, Shahzad was known for delving deep into the murky underworld of Islamist militancy. He had interviewed some of the most notorious leaders including Sirajuddin Haqqani, a major player in the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, and Ilyas Kashmiri, a Pakistani militant who works for al-Qaida.

His new book, Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11, had just been published.

Pakistan is the world's most dangerous country for journalists, according to Reporters without Borders, which says that 16 journalists have been killed in the past 14 months.

Last September Umar Cheema, another investigative reporter, was abducted from Islamabad for six hours and tortured before being released. He said he suspected that his kidnappers belonged to the ISI.

Al-Qaeda had warned of Pakistan strike

By Syed Saleem Shahzad

Al-Qaeda carried out the brazen attack on PNS Mehran naval air station in Karachi on May 22 after talks failed between the navy and al-Qaeda over the release of naval officials arrested on suspicion of al-Qaeda 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 and two United States-made P3-C Orion surveillance and anti-submarine aircraft worth US$36 million each were destroyed 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-Qaeda.

Three attacks on navy buses in which at least nine people were killed last month were warning shots for navy officials to accept al-Qaeda's demands over the detained suspects.

The May 2 killing in Pakistan of Osama bin Laden spurred al-Qaeda groups into developing a consensus for the attack in Karachi, in part as revenge for the death of their leader and also to deal a blow to Pakistan's surveillance capacity against the Indian navy.

The deeper underlying motive, though, was a reaction to massive internal crackdowns on al-Qaeda affiliates within the navy.

Volcano of militancy
Several weeks ago, naval intelligence traced an al-Qaeda cell operating inside several navy bases in Karachi, the country's largest city and key port.

"Islamic sentiments are common in the armed forces," a senior navy official told Asia Times Online on the condition of anonymity as he is not authorized to speak to the media.

"We never felt threatened by that. All armed forces around the world, whether American, British or Indian, take some inspiration from religion to motivate their cadre against the enemy. Pakistan came into existence on the two-nation theory that Hindus and Muslims are two separate nations and therefore no one can separate Islam and Islamic sentiment from the armed forces of Pakistan," the official said.

"Nonetheless, we observed an uneasy grouping on different naval bases in Karachi. While nobody can obstruct armed forces personnel for rendering religious rituals or studying Islam, the grouping [we observed] was against the discipline of the armed forces. That was the beginning of an intelligence operation in the navy to check for unscrupulous activities."

The official explained the grouping was against the leadership of the armed forces and opposed to its nexus with the United States against Islamic militancy. When some messages were intercepted hinting at attacks on visiting American officials, intelligence had good reason to take action and after careful evaluation at least 10 people - mostly from the lower cadre - were arrested in a series of operations.

"That was the beginning of huge trouble," the official said.

Those arrested were held in a naval intelligence office behind the chief minister's residence in Karachi, but before proper interrogation could begin, the in-charge of the investigation received direct threats from militants who made it clear they knew where the men were being detained.

The detainees were promptly moved to a safer location, but the threats continued. Officials involved in the case believe the militants feared interrogation would lead to the arrest of more of their loyalists in the navy. The militants therefore made it clear that if those detained were not released, naval installations would be attacked.

It was clear the militants were receiving good inside information as they always knew where the suspects were being detained, indicating sizeable al-Qaeda infiltration within the navy's ranks. A senior-level naval conference was called at which an intelligence official insisted that the matter be handled with great care, otherwise the consequences could be disastrous. Everybody present agreed, and it was decided to open a line of communication with al-Qaeda.

Abdul Samad Mansoori, a former student union activist and now part of 313 brigade, who originally hailed from Karachi but now lives in the North Waziristan tribal area was approached and talks begun. Al-Qaeda demanded the immediate release of the officials without further interrogation. This was rejected.

The detainees were allowed to speak to their families and were well treated, but officials were desperate to interrogate them fully to get an idea of the strength of al-Qaeda's penetration. The militants were told that once interrogation was completed, the men would be discharged from the service and freed.

Al-Qaeda rejected these terms and expressed its displeasure with the attacks on the navy buses in April.

These incidents pointed to more than the one al-Qaeda cell intelligence had tracked in the navy. The fear now was that if the problem was not addressed, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) supply lines could face a new threat. NATO convoys are routinely attacked once they begin the journey from Karachi to Afghanistan; now they could be at risk in Karachi port. Americans who often visit naval facilities in the city would also be in danger.

Therefore, another crackdown was conducted and more people were arrested. Those seized had different ethnic backgrounds. One naval commando came from South Waziristan's Mehsud tribe and was believed to have received direct instructions from Hakeemullah Mehsud, the chief of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (Pakistan Taliban). Others were from Punjab province and Karachi, the capital of Sindh province.

After Bin Laden was killed by American Navy Seals in Abbottabad, 60 kilometers north of Islamabad, militants decided the time was ripe for major action.

Within a week, insiders at PNS Mehran provided maps, pictures of different exit and entry routes taken in daylight and at night, the location of hangers and details of likely reaction from external security forces.

As a result, the militants were able to enter the heavily guarded facility where one group targeted the aircraft, a second group took on the first strike force and a third finally escaped with the others providing covering fire. Those who stayed behind were killed.

Asia Times Online journalist feared dead

Syed Saleem Shahzad, the Pakistan Bureau Chief for Asia Times Online who went missing on Sunday evening, has been killed, according to police.

Shahzad, who has been writing for Hong Kong-based Asia Times Online for nearly 10 years, failed to show up for a scheduled appearance on a television talk show in the capital Islamabad.

Police reported that his body was found in a canal in Mandi Bahauddin in Punjab province about 150 kilometers southeast of Islamabad and about 10 kilometers from where his car was found. They said that his body bore marks of torture.

Earlier, the International Federation of Journalists released a statement saying it "urgently appeals to the Government of Pakistan to order its security and police agencies to respond immediately to find a senior journalist who disappeared in Islamabad on May 29".
Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani expressed his "deep grief and sorrow" over Shahzad's death and ordered an immediate inquiry into his kidnapping and murder, according to Associated Press of Pakistan.

Shahzad, 40, had on several occasions been warned by officials of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) over articles they deemed to be detrimental to Pakistan's national interests or image. He leaves a wife, two sons aged 14 and seven, and a daughter aged 12.

Human Rights Watch researcher Ali Dayan Hasan earlier said he suspected ISI officials abducted Shahzad, possibly because of a recent story he wrote on al-Qaeda infiltration in the Pakistani navy. Authorities haven't commented. (Al-Qaeda had warned of Pakistan strike.)

Tony Allison, the Editor of Asia Times Online, expressed his deep concern for one of the most fearless journalists with whom he had ever worked. "We will bring the utmost pressure to bear on the authorities over this case. We at Asia Times Online express our deepest sympathies for Saleem's family."

Asia Times Online journalist missing

International organizations including the International Federation of Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and Human Rights Watch have called on Pakistani authorities to immediately release any information they have on Syed Saleem Shahzad, the Pakistan Bureau Chief for Asia Times Online, who went missing on Sunday evening.

Shahzad, who has been writing for Asia Times Online for nearly 10 years, failed to show up for a scheduled appearance on a television talk show in the capital Islamabad.

The International Federation of Journalists released a statement saying it "urgently appeals to the Government of Pakistan to order its security and police agencies to respond immediately to find a Asia Times Online journalist missing.

journalist in ISI custody; ISI , a major human rights abuser in Pakistan

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) has, through credible sources, learnt that journalist Saleem Shahzad is in custody of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), HRW’s Pakistan representative Ali Dayan Hasan told Daily Times on Monday.

Dayan remarked that the ISI remained a major human rights abuser in Pakistan and it frequently kept abusing and torturing those journalists it disagreed with. He further said the HRW had previously documented similar cases of abduction and torture on journalists by security agencies.

People close to Shahzad told Daily Times that he was picked up by officers of an intelligence agency who have promised through anonymous calls to release him soon. Shahzad, who was working as bureau chief of the Asia Times Online in Islamabad, was whisked away by unidentified people on Sunday evening when he left his F-8 Sector residence to participate in a television talk show. His mobile phone remained switched off and his car could not be traced.

People close to Shahzad stated that he had received numerous warnings from security agencies for his reporting in the past, adding that his recent reporting on the issue of terrorist attack on PNS Mehran might have become the reason of his abduction.

Meanwhile, a case has been registered against the unidentified kidnappers in the F-8 Sector Police Station.

Pakistani jets attack Taliban hideouts

Pakistani warplanes attacked Taliban positions in the northwestern Orakzai region on Tuesday, killing 17 militants, a senior regional government official said.
Orakzai is one of seven ethnic Pashtun tribal areas where the Pakistani army has tried to root out militants with offensives against their strongholds.
The strike came a day after a local newspaper reported that Pakistan will launch an offensive in North Waziristan, a known sanctuary for al Qaeda and Taliban militants also located in Pakistan's tribal belt.
Pakistan's performance in fighting militancy has come under close scrutiny again after it was discovered that al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden had been living in the country.
Army operations in areas like Orakzai have failed to break the back of militant groups such as the Pakistani Taliban, who have stepped up suicide bombings since U.S. special forces killed bin Laden near Islamabad on May 2.
"We had information that militants gathered there and were planning attacks so we launched the attack," a local senior government official told Reuters. He said 17 militants were killed and six wounded in the Orakzai operation.
Residents in the town of Mamoozai, where the air strike took place, said several helicopter gunships were hovering overhead hours after the attack.
After the bin Laden raid, the United States told Pakistan it needs to step up the fight against militants, and government officials said Mamoozai has become a hub for militants who fled military operations elsewhere in the tribal belt, a strategy that has enabled them to survive army assaults.
The Pakistani Taliban, which has strong ties to al Qaeda, has attacked army recruits, a naval base, and trucks carrying fuel to U.S.-led NATO troops in Afghanistan to avenge the death of bin Laden.
On Tuesday, gunmen on a motorcycle attacked and torched two NATO trucks in southwestern Baluchistan province, a provincial government official said.

Shahbaz Sharif should be replaced

Demanding replacement of Shahbaz Sharif as the Chief Minister with some other suitable person from the PML-N, Punjab Opposition Leader Raja Riaz on Monday alleged Shahbaz was not releasing the report of the judicial commission on illegal breaches of dykes made during last year’s floods on behest of PML-N leaders.
While addressing a news conference at Lahore Press Club, Raja said that report of the said commission was gathering dust in CM Secretariat for the last over three months, but Punjab CM was not making it public to save the skin of his blue-eyed bureaucrats and PML-N leaders who have been held responsible for the crime. The PPP leader said that judicial commission in its inquiry report has held Secretary Irrigation, Malik Rabnawaz responsible for the illegal breaches which caused massive devastation. He further said that secretary irrigation had already stated that he was acting on the advice of chief minister’s Principal Secretary, Dr. Tauqeer Shah who enjoyed backing of his boss.
He said Punjab CM had himself ordered constitution of a judicial commission on controversial breaches, and now when the report has been submitted to him, it was not being made public for the said reason.

Afghan president warns NATO against airstrikes that kill civilians

Afghan President Hamid Karzai warned Tuesday that any future NATO airstrikes that kill civilians will be considered attacks against the Afghan people.
The statement came three days after an airstrike killed 14 civilians in southern Afghanistan, according to Afghan officials.
"This is my last warning to the NATO forces: No more attacks on the homes of Afghans will be allowed," Karzai told reporters.
"If they continue such operations to kill civilians, international forces will change to a force who is not fighting against terrorists but fighting against Afghan people."
Army Gen. David Petraeus, commander of NATO-led troops in Afghanistan, joined two other generals in offering "sincere apologies" Monday for the airstrike that killed nine civilians in Helmand province. There was no immediate explanation for the disparity between this figure and Karzai's account of 14 killed: 10 children, two women and two men.
Maj. Gen. John Toolan, head of NATO's International Security Assistance Force command in southwest Afghanistan, pleaded with Afghans to not only forgive, but to also work with coalition forces in hopes of bolstering their security.
"I offer our heartfelt apologies to the families and friends of those killed," Toolan said in a statement. "I ask that the Afghan people continue to trust and assist their security forces, so that together we can stop the senseless killing brought upon us by an enemy who wants to exploit the Afghan people through fear and violence."
Karzai said Tuesday that the international community has turned the war against terrorism into political objectives.
"They seek their own interest and played politics," Karzai said. "... If they were fighting against terrorism as the Afghans were honestly advising them, if they were focusing (on) the terrorism sanctuaries ... this war would have been more successful."