Daniel Pearl Beheaded by Pakistani Terrorists, 2002

On This Day, February 1st, 2002

On this day, Feb. 1, 2002, Jewish-American journalist Daniel Pearl was beheaded by Pakistani terrorists in Pakistan. Employed, since October of 2000, as the South Asia Bureau Chief for The Wall Street Journal, Pearl was based in Mumbai, where he and his wife had moved. Pearl served as a reporter, covering the war on terror, making repeated trips to Pakistan so as to investigate the movements of “shoe bomber” Richard Reid.

Pearl was born in New Jersey on October 10th, 1963 and raised in California. He graduated from Stanford in 1985 with a BA in communications and started working as a journalist shortly thereafter. First as an intern with the Indianapolis Star and then for several small newspapers all based in Massachusetts until he accepted a job writing for the San Francisco Business Times. As previously stated, he was hired by the Journal in 1990, working in their Atlanta Bureau and in 1993, left the Bureau for their offices in D.C only to be transferred to the London offices three years later. He was there for three years until he moved to the Paris bureau in 1999, albeit for a brief period.

Pearl became the South Asia bureau chief in the fall of 2000. Before he was the chief of the bureau in South Asia, Pearl covered a wide array of topics, writing pieces about the Stradivarius violin in the fall of 1994 and Iranian pop music in June of 2000.

Pearl was on assignment in Pakistan, researching Richard Reid and was led to believe that his interview with the Muslim spiritual leader Sheik Gilani awaited. What followed, though, was a gruesome and violent attack. Pearl was kidnapped in Karachi, Pakistan by members of The National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty, a terrorist organization. Convinced that Pearl was a spy for the United States they called on the US to release all Pakistanis detained as terrorists and reinstate the order of fighter planes that they had stopped from traveling to the Pakistani government.

An email put out by the terrorists the same day Pearl was taken captive outlined their course of action: “We give you one more day if America will not meet our demands we will kill Daniel. Then this cycle will continue and no American journalists could enter Pakistan.” The email included attached photographs of Pearl handcuffed at gunpoint while another showed him holding up a newspaper. Public efforts calling for Pearl’s release from both his wife and Journal editor went unacknowledged.

The United States did not comply with the terrorist demands. The email represented the last update on Pearl’s condition until his death. The terrorists eventually released a hostage video.

While this wasn’t known until three weeks after the fact, Pearl was beheaded nine days after the email was received but not before being mercilessly tortured by the terrorists holding him against his will. Following his beheading, Pearl’s body was sliced into ten pieces and disposed of in a region north of Karachi. It wasn’t until three months later on May 10th that his remains were uncovered, verified, and sent back to the United States so they could be properly interred.

Pearl delivered a statement prepared by the terrorists in the video which received global recognition after it was discovered due to his refusal to denounce his Jewish faith and his Zionism. “My father’s Jewish, my mother’s Jewish, I’m Jewish.”

Just two days before Pearl was taken hostage he learned the news that they were expecting a child. Shortly after his death Pearl’s parents founded the Daniel Pearl Foundation dedicated to the promotion of “cross-cultural understanding through journalism, music, and dialogue.”

The Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act was signed by President Obama on May 19, 2010, and sought to protect U.S. journalists around the globe.

Following the news of Pearl’s brutal killing both the United States and Pakistan promised to investigate and find those responsible. Shortly thereafter, Pakistani forces captured three suspects along with Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the alleged mastermind behind the operation. “All four were charged with murder and sentenced to death.” Just recently Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled that those four men were subjected to unfair suffering. The court ordered that they be released due to lack of evidence. Only Sheikh’s abduction charge still stands which includes a 7-year prison sentence. However, he can still be released on time served. The White House described the news as “an affront to terrorism everywhere.”

Too often are individuals such as Pearl remembered for the way they died and not for how they lived. Like Pearl, James Foley, Stephen Sotloff, and others are remembered on the anniversary of their death. While acknowledging Pearl’s life on the day of his death seeks to reinforce this unfortunate principle, we hope that doing so will encourage others to educate themselves on the impact he left behind.

“My name is Daniel Pearl. I’m a Jewish American from Encino, California, USA. I come from, uh, on my father’s side the family is Zionist. My father’s Jewish, my mother’s Jewish, I’m Jewish. My family follows Judaism. We’ve made numerous family visits to Israel.”

— Daniel Pearl in recorded video titled, “Slaughter of the Spy Journalist, the Jew Daniel Pearl”