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Suspected 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed boasted at a military hearing at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that he personally beheaded American journalist Daniel Pearl. But the avowed terrorist's claim that Pearl was an Israeli intelligence agent was dismissed by experts and journalism colleagues as baseless.
"I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew, Daniel Pearl, in the city of Karachi, Pakistan," Mohammed told a US military panel, according to a revised Pentagon transcript released Thursday. "For those who would like to confirm, there are pictures of me on the Internet holding his head."
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In a muddled statement to the panel on Saturday, spoken in broken English, Mohammed also claimed that Pearl had been working for the Mossad and had a relationship with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency when he was abducted in Pakistan in January 2002 - allegations rejected by terrorism experts and Pearl's Wall Street Journal colleagues.
"It's ludicrous and preposterous," said Paul Steiger, the Journal's managing editor. "Danny was a journalist first, last and always."
Pearl was abducted in January 2002 in Pakistan while researching a story on Islamic militancy in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Mohammed was previously never 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 Mohammed has been considered a suspect since shortly after the kidnapping. Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, in his memoirs last year, said Mohammed either killed or took part in the murder.
In all, Mohammed took responsibility for 31 attacks and plots - some of which never occurred - during his closed hearing at the US naval prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The Pentagon released the bulk of the transcript late Wednesday, but held back the section about Pearl's killing to allow time for his family to be notified, said Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman.
His parents, Judea and Ruth Pearl, said it is impossible to know whether Mohammed's claim about killing their son "has any bearing in truth."
"We prefer to focus our energy on continuing Danny's lifework through the programs of the Daniel Pearl Foundation which aim to eradicate the hatred that took his life," they said in a statement.
Mohammed said Pearl had been collecting information about a trip to Israel once made by Richard Reid, who was convicted of trying to use explosives hidden in his shoes to destroy an airliner in December 2001. "His mission in Pakistan from Israeli intelligence, Mossad, to make interview to ask about when he was there," the transcript quotes Mohammed as saying.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev dismissed the claim as baseless, and other analysts said it lacks credibility.
Al-Qaida and other Islamic terror groups often accuse their targets of working for Israeli intelligence as justification for violence, according to Rita Katz, director of the SITE Institute, which monitors extremist messages on the Internet.
"It's a way of getting more support, justification, and sympathy for your actions," Katz said. "Rather than saying we killed him because he's a reporter or just because he's Jewish, you make a better case if you say he's an agent."
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