On This Day: Jewish journalist Daniel Pearl beheaded 20 years ago

A video of the execution was released later that same month, under the title of The Slaughter of the Spy-Journalist, the Jew Daniel Pearl.

 A portrait of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl stands with a candle at the altar of St. Brides Church on Fleet Street in London (photo credit: Ian Waldie/Reuters)
A portrait of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl stands with a candle at the altar of St. Brides Church on Fleet Street in London
(photo credit: Ian Waldie/Reuters)

February 1, 2022 marks 20 years since Jewish-American journalist Daniel Pearl was beheaded by terrorists in Pakistan who had kidnapped him days earlier.

Pearl, 38 at the time of his death, was a Jew from New Jersey who was based in Mumbai, India while working as the South Asia bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda, Pearl moved to Karachi to investigate terrorism.

On January 23, 2002, Pearl was abducted by Islamist terrorists at a hotel in Karachi. His abductors, who called themselves the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty, accused him of being a spy and sent the US a list of demands if they wanted Pearl freed.

These demands were not met, and despite the efforts of many who pled with the kidnappers to free him and US intelligence efforts to find him, Pearl was ultimately executed by beheading.

A video of the execution was released later that same month, under the title of The Slaughter of the Spy-Journalist, the Jew Daniel Pearl.

British-born Islamic militant Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh is surrounded by armed police as he leaves court in Karachi on March 29, 2002 (credit: REUTERS/ ZAHID HUSSEIN ZH/RCS)British-born Islamic militant Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh is surrounded by armed police as he leaves court in Karachi on March 29, 2002 (credit: REUTERS/ ZAHID HUSSEIN ZH/RCS)

In the video, Pearl identified himself as a Jewish American.

"My father's Jewish, my mother's Jewish, I'm Jewish. My family follows Judaism," he said.

They would be some of his last words.

Pearl's killers were arrested that same month after the IP address of the ransom email was tracked. This included Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, a British-born terrorist with ties to al-Qaeda and who formerly served in Pakistan's intelligence agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). 

Sheikh was sentenced to death for his crime. However, Pakistan's court later acquitted Sheikh and three others for the murder and even ordered them to be released from prison.

This was later upheld by the Pakistani Supreme Court, despite objections by the Pakistani government and the US. Sheikh was moved to a jail in Lahore where he will stay for the remainder of the appeal process. 

Pearl was remembered for his tragic death and for his career as a journalist, honored by his family, friends and colleagues alike. 

"Feb. 1 marks 20 years since our son, Danny, was murdered in Karachi, Pakistan. We will be lighting the traditional "soul candle" and say Kaddish in his memory," Daniel's father Judea wrote on Twitter.

He also shared a poem he wrote, called "The Lion's Den," in which he likens his son's death to the biblical Daniel who was thrown into a lion's den but saved by God.

Books and documentaries were made about him, including a collection of responses published by his parents titled  I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl.

His parents also launched the Daniel Pearl Foundation, which brings journalists from Muslim majority countries to the United States to work at news outlets and sponsors concerts. 

The Pearl Project at Georgetown University advances investigative journalism; its first investigation was into Daniel Pearl’s murder. Its conclusion: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks who remains captive in the US jail at Guantanamo Bay, carried out the killing.