Last Sunday afternoon, Pakistan’s leading English daily newspaper, Dawn, published headline news of the arrest of a militant tied to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), a domestic sectarian militant group: "Former LeJ chief involved in Daniel Pearl murder arrested in Karachi." The article trumpeted the arrest as "yet another success" of "security forces" in their "ongoing targeted operation against militants and lawbreakers in Karachi."
The story made its way around the world, landing on CNN within two days. The New York Times declared: "Suspect in Daniel Pearl killing is arrested in Pakistan."
Most certainly, the news that Pakistan’s elite Rangers force arrested Pakistani militant Abdul Hayee is important. He has a long criminal record, linked to bombings, sectarian assassinations against Shia targets and domestic mayhem. U.S. President Barack Obama, the Justice Department, and the State Department should press for Hayee to be prosecuted.
But as important as Hayee’s prosecution, is understanding the events that precipitated his arrest, and recognizing that amidst the drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan we must put a magnifying glass to militancy in Pakistan on the street, village and individual level. The case of Abdul Hayee is illustrative of Pakistan’s failure to adhere to the rule of law in any meaningful, sustainable way.
Hayee was arrested before, in 2003, and presumably released. On May 29, 2003, Dawn, the same Pakistani English daily that trumpeted Hayee’s arrest last week, reported, "Terrorism convict arrested," chronicling Hayee’s arrest. A few days later, The News, another English daily, reported with the headline, "Pearl kidnapping suspect appears in Pakistan" that Hayee had been charged. A detailed report by the United Nations Higher Commission for Refugees chronicled Hayee’s arrest and disappearance from public record.
This cat and mouse game has become business as usual, described by one U.S. official as "catch-and-release, catch-and-release." For those who have watched the case closely, who have lived with it for years, there are many vexing questions: Did Pakistani forces secretly have Hayee all along? Are they going to prosecute? If so, why now? Why not the first time they picked up him? If they do, will they actually get a conviction? Or is there something even more unsettling going on? Is this an effort to release Omar Sheikh, the mastermind of the scheme to trap Pearl, convicted to death but his case pending appeal?
In a hyperbolic exaggeration of Hayee’s role, the Pakistan Press Foundation reported that Hayee was the "mastermind" of Pearl’s murder. But it seems that the news of Hayee’s arrest is meant to influence as much as inform, to borrow from a concept used by intelligence analysts. Hayee wasn’t directly involved in Pearl’s murder, as the headlines suggest, but rather had a cameo, bit role in the kidnapping that amounted to a quick sighting of Pearl as he arrived at the compound where he was held, and then a shopping trip to a local flea market to buy the odd track suit Pearl’s kidnappers made him wear.
In "The Truth Left Behind," a report published in early 2011 by the Pearl Project, a faculty-student investigative reporting project at Georgetown University, we found that 27 men were allegedly involved in Pearl’s kidnapping and murder; of them only four were convicted, while others were killed in extrajudicial shootings or held in detention, and 14 remained free. Among them: Hayee. In a detail that Pearl would have appreciated, Hayee’s trail leads back to a secret meeting with militants involved in the kidnapping at a popular Karachi hangout: Snoopy Ice Cream Parlour.
In the spring of 2008, we obtained a copy of a 5-page Pakistani police report, written in Urdu, detailing Hayee’s involvement in Pearl’s kidnapping. The police report reveals a very detailed profile of Hayee as one of Pakistan’s many "sons of darkness," as journalist Massoud Ansari calls them, born in the 1960s and 70s with roots in the northeast Punjab Province heartland, where radicalism is often fostered by an austere interpretation of Sunni Islam called Deobandism.
The men came of age in the 1980s just as Afghan fighters, fueled by their Islamic fervor and covert aid from Pakistan and the United States, were defeating the mighty Soviet military. After the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) tapped the new Islamist fervor in Pakistan to create militant groups such as HUM (Harkat ul-Mujahideen), LeJ (Lashkar-e-Jhangvi), JeM (Jaish-e-Mohammed), SSP (Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan), HUI (Harkat-ul-Islamiya), and LeT (Lashkar-e-Taiba), based in Punjab Province, as proxies in Pakistan’s war against India for the state of Kashmir. Through the 1990s, Hayee crisscrossed Pakistan into Afghanistan, training other militants, plotting attacks on members of the Shia minority and recruiting new members.
Many of the young men involved in Pearl’s kidnapping had joined these groups and trained at Afghanistan-Pakistan border camps tied to Pakistan’s spy agency, the ISI, and were drawn to the radical views of the Taliban fighters who subsequently took control of Afghanistan. In an ironic twist of events, it was the ISI’s public affairs arm that confirmed Hayee’s arrest to reporters this week. Hayee’s group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, is now considered part of a loose collection of militant groups dubbed the "Punjabi Taliban."
Now in their 30s and 40s, these militants are eager foot soldiers and officers in what some regard as a growing industry, ‘Jihad Inc.’, many of them living in dicey Karachi neighborhoods, such as Nazimabad and Gulshan-e-Iqbal, both neighborhoods that Hayee called home in the police report.
The details of the kidnapping chronicled in our Pearl Project report reveal these networks of trusted relationships through which militants such as Hayee operate. In January 2002, living in Karachi, Hayee got a call from Attaur Rehman, another young terrorist king pin. He and other militant buddies hailed from the same Nazimabad neighborhood that Hayee had called home. Rehman had taken over as amir of LEJ in Karachi when Hayee traveled to Afghanistan, according to the police report.
Rehman told Hayee to arrive at a compound where an "American journalist" was to be held. The journalist: Pearl. He had arrived in Karachi to conduct an interview. But it was actually a trap set by the mastermind of the kidnapping, Omar Sheikh, a Pakistani-British London School of Economics dropout who had been bitten by the jihad bug, prompting him to join Harkat ul-Mujahideen in the early 1990s, heading to India where he was arrested in 1994 for kidnapping tourists, including an American. (In 1999, India freed him in exchange for passengers on hijacked Indian Airlines Flight 814.)
Rehman and Hayee were old acquaintances; they had collaborated on a 1998 attack against Iranian engineers, according to the police report. After checking out the compound, Rehman told Hayee to meet him after the sunset prayer called maghrib at Snoopy Ice Cream. The two militants ate
ice cream as they waited for their co-conspirators to arrive. "A red car arrived, most probably an Alto, in which there were two people and the other was the driver who was recognizable but don’t know the name," Hayee said in the police report. "He had a long beard, they got ice cream and left. We also left after them." Police suspect that Pearl was also in the red car that showed up outside the Snoopy Ice Cream parlor.
From another suspect’s police report, the Pearl Project established that soon after arriving at the compound, Rehman told his underlings, "The guest is coming. Get ready." Rehman took two Russian-made TT-30 semiautomatic pistols from a side compartment of his Hero Honda C-70 motorcycle, giving one to a guard and keeping the other. He turned to one of the men, Fazal Karim, a low-level militant with five daughters, and told him to watch the gate and open it as soon as a car arrived.
"Soon after that, the journalist’s car came in," Hayee is reported to have said in his police report.
When the red Suzuki Alto pulled up, Pearl was in the front seat. Karim opened the gate. Rehman opened the front door and led Pearl out of the car, holding him, according to the police report, "by his neck and in the other hand held the pistol." Hayee stood nearby.
Hayee said the militants "took the journalist at gunpoint to the room where everyone undressed him and searched his belongings completely." The red Suzuki "left right away." Rehman "picked up Daniel Pearl’s belongings," Hayee said. According to other suspect reports, Rehman told Pearl to take off his clothes and hand over his belongings, including his camera, tape recorder, mobile phone, wristwatch, glasses, glasses case, wallet, four to five mobile phone cards, shoes, and a Citibank credit card. Pearl complied. Rehman asked Pearl what he wanted to eat. The guards suggested a hamburger, according to another suspect report.
Together, Hayee and Rehman went to a neighborhood called Sohrab Goth. From the flea market there, they "got clothes, beddings, food to eat," the police report said. Then he said: "I left for home."
And that appears to have been the extent of Hayee’s involvement. It might be in Hayee’s interest to minimize his role in the kidnapping, but his chronology is collaborated by the police reports of other suspects.
Later, Attaur Rehman and Faisal Bhatti, another alleged militant also involved, came to Hayee’s house, he said, and told him: "We have completed Daniel Pearl’s job."
Hayee’s story demonstrates how militants make a career out of terrorism. During his interrogation, Hayee told police he had been considering a few other terrorist attacks. With regard to one of these, he said he met with a colleague, "Asif," at a mosque called Baitul Mukarram in Karachi "to make plans against Americans." Hayee and Asif knew that containers destined for American troops in Afghanistan would be passing through Pakistan. The plan: "Snatch the containers near Afghanistan, fill them with explosives, send a suicide bomber inside, and let him explode at the designated spot."
Police also tied Hayee to bombs sent to police officers in Karachi in 2003.
As the Pearl Project showed, this single arrest of Abdul Hayee won’t be enough. Pakistan needs to prosecute all of the 14 men allegedly involved in Pearl’s kidnapping, and it needs to shut down, dismantle and destroy the "jihad factories," as one regional security expert calls them, that created them and support them today. In a prescient article published in the last days of December 2001, after reporting in the city of Bahawalpur in south Punjab, home to many militant groups, Danny Pearl himself cast a jaundiced eye at the announcement of the arrest of 50 "extremists or terrorists," noting that despite Pakistani government claims that the offices of extremists had been shut down, "posters praising holy war still hung inside."
In an email, Pearl told his mother about the article he’d just written on the militancy in Pakistan, still alive, and, knowing any mother’s normal worries for her child, cautioned her: "Don’t freak out too much about my story in today’s paper."
Asra Q. Nomani is a former Wall Street Journal reporter and the co-director of the Pearl Project. Kira Zalan is an associate editor at U.S. News & World Report and former Pearl Project fellow. Barbara Feinman Todd is Georgetown University’s journalism director and the co-director of the Pearl Project.
The Pearl Project was funded by the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation. Pakistani police reports were translated from Urdu to English by Sajida Nomani and Dr. Zafar Nomani, translators for the Pearl Project.