Who killed Syed Saleem Shahzad? – Dexter Filkins in The New Yorker

Syed Saleem Shahzad 1970-2011

In a major article for The New Yorker Dexter Filkins investigates the murder of Syed Saleem Shahzad, the courageous journalist killed in Pakistan in May and the author of Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11.

Filkins gives a sense of the importance of Shahzad’s work and his bravery as an investigative journalist:

Tony Allison, a South African who works in the Thailand offices of Asia Times Online, was Shahzad’s editor. “Sometimes, Saleem would disappear for three or four days, and I wouldn’t know where he’d gone, and then he would emerge with a great story,” he told me. “I knew he could get the story and I trusted him.”

Filkins writes about his meeting with Shahzad in a Islamabad coffee shop nine days before his murder where they discussed possible links between the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence service, and Al Qaeda:

Shahzad was tall and self-possessed; he had thick black hair and a round face offset by a trim beard. He was warm and expressive, the sort of reporter whom people talked to because he seemed genuinely nice. No wonder he got all those scoops, I thought. He was wearing Western clothes and spoke flawless English. He told me that he knew some of my colleagues, and offered to help me out in any way that he could.

And then Shahzad changed the subject. What he really wanted to talk about was his own safety. “Look, I’m in danger,” he said. “I’ve got to get out of Pakistan.” He added that he had a wife and three kids, and they weren’t safe, either. He’d been to London recently, and someone there had promised to help him move to England.

“Do you think the I.S.I. was hiding bin Laden?” I asked him.

Shahzad shrugged again and said yes. But he hadn’t been able to prove it. (The I.S.I. calls this claim an “unsubstantiated accusation of a very serious nature.”)

Now, two months later, there was another reason to worry: a book that he’d written, “Inside Al Qaeda and the Taliban,” was being released in three days, in both Pakistan and the West. The book, written in English, explored even more deeply the taboo subject of the I.S.I.’s relationship with Islamist militants.

“They’re going to be really mad,” Shahzad said.

Filkins suggests that after the killing of Osama Bin Laden the Pakistani military and ISI were feeling highly defensive over accusations of links between them and Islamist militants. When, a few weeks after the killing of Bin Laden, militants attacked one of the country’s most secure military bases – killing ten people and blowing up two surveillance planes – Shahzad wrote an article again highlighting links between the Pakistani military and Al Qaeda:

The presence of Islamists in the Navy, and at Mehran, was not a secret among Pakistanis. But Shahzad’s article was particularly incendiary. Not only did he report that sailors at the base had helped the attackers; he wrote that the Navy’s leadership was bargaining directly with Al Qaeda. “Consider the time when Saleem’s piece came out,” a high-level American official told me. “The military felt humiliated. It felt backed into a corner.” The official added, “When you’re backed into a corner like that, you strike back.”

Three days after the attack the Mehran base got a new commander, Commodore Khalid Pervaiz, who had met with Shahzad in 2010 to challenge him about his reporting. Five days after the Mehran attack Shazad published his story.

Filkins reports that “reliable” US intelligence indicates that the order to kill Shahzad came from a senior officer in the Pakistani military. He quotes Bruce Riedel, a former C.I.A. officer, “If you start from the premise that the Pakistanis had something to do with hiding bin Laden, then you have to assume that they were trying very hard to put everything back into the tube. And so it would have made sense for them to get rid of Saleem Shahzad.”

The Pakistani government and military strongly reject claims that they were involved in Shahzad’s murder.

In a further twist, Filkins reports that four days after Shahzad’s death, Ilyas Kashmiri, a senior Al Qaeda member, was killed in a US drone attack. Shahzad had been in close contact with Kashmiri for years, using him as a vital source for many of his articles. Filkins speculates:

Given the brief time that passed between Shahzad’s death and Kashmiri’s, a question inevitably arose: Did the Americans find Kashmiri on their own? Or did they benefit from information obtained by the I.S.I. during its detention of Shahzad? If so, Shahzad’s death would be not just a terrible example of Pakistani state brutality; it would be a terrible example of the collateral damage sustained in America’s war on terror.

The evidence is fragmentary, but it is not difficult to imagine a scenario in which Pakistani intelligence agents gave the C.I.A. at least some of the information that pinpointed Kashmiri. Likewise, it seems possible that at least some of that information may have come from Shahzad, either during his lethal interrogation or from data taken from his cell phone. In the past, the I.S.I. and the C.I.A. have coöperated extensively on the U.S. drone program.

Visit The New Yorker to read the article in full.

Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban

Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11

Syed Saleem Shahzad

A unique insight into the post-Osama bin Laden generation of Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders from a journalist who interviewed many of them.

“This is a disturbing book. … Shahzad considers the strategies of al-Qaeda and other radical Islamist movements in terms that are not often heard.” – The Times

“Buy Shahzad’s book. It tells us what the Pakistani government, whose corruption and brutality Shahzad died to expose, does not want us to know.” – Charles Glass

£17.99 only £16.00 on the Pluto site

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