Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Predictably Pakistan's ISI Denied Involvement In Reporter's Murder

The Pakistani intelligence service has made a rare public statement to deny any involvement in the murder of journalist Saleem Shahzad.

His body was found on Tuesday, two days after he went missing.Mr Shazad's funeral took place on Wednesday in the city of Karachi.The 40-year-old father of three vanished after leaving home in Islamabad to appear on a television talk show. He had recently written an article about al-Qaeda infiltration into Pakistan's navy.

Mr Shahzad made a career writing about the various Islamist militant networks operating in Pakistan and is reported to have warned human rights campaigners before his disappearance that he had been threatened by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) - prompting speculation the spy agency may have been involved in his death.

But in what correspondents say is an unusual move, an ISI official said on Wednesday that the incident "should not be used to target and malign the country's security agency".

"Baseless accusations against the country's sensitive agencies for their alleged involvement in Shahzad's murder are totally unfounded. In the absence of any evidence and when an investigation is still pending, such allegations are tantamount to unprofessional conduct on the part of the media," the official told the Associated Press of Pakistan.

"The ISI offers its deepest and heartfelt condolence to the bereaved family, and assures them that it will leave no stone unturned in helping to bring the perpetrators of this heinous crime to justice."

In a warning to the Pakistani media, the official said that it "should refrain from [making] baseless allegations against the ISI that seek to deliberately malign the organisation in the eyes of the people of Pakistan".

Journalists have held protests across Pakistan to condemn the killing, with sit-ins and marches held in Peshawar, Lahore and Karachi.

Pakistan has ordered an immediate inquiry into his kidnapping and murder.

Syed Shoaib Hasan - who attended the funeral - said there has been no comment from the government over the circumstances of Mr Shahzad's murder, except for a statement from Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani immediately after the body was discovered on Tuesday.

Mr Gilani said that the culprits would be brought to justice "at every cost".

Our correspondent says that no government representatives attended the funeral, although some opposition politicians and officials who knew the dead man in a personal capacity were in attendance.

Mr Shahzad's body was found about 150km (90 miles) south-east of Islamabad. Police said it bore marks of torture."The cause of death is torture and there are several signs of torture on his body and face," Ashok Kumar, one of the doctors who carried out a post-mortem, told the AFP news agency.The post mortem report said that there were "15 torture marks" on his body, and no bullet wounds. It said the death was probably caused by a fatal blow to the body in the chest region.

Wasim Fawad, a brother of Mr Shahzad, told the BBC after the funeral that the family were in shock."I can say this about my brother - he was committed 100% to his profession," he said."Nobody can say about my brother - unlike others - that he backed down in front of threats or bribes."

Deadly assault

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Washington "strongly condemned the abduction and killing" of Mr Shahzad. "His work reporting on terrorism and intelligence issues in Pakistan brought to light the troubles extremism poses to Pakistan's stability," she said in a statement. She also welcomed the investigation into the killing.

Mr Shahzad's article about al-Qaeda infiltration in Pakistan's navy was recently published.He reported that the militant group had launched the deadly assault on the Mehran base in Karachi, the headquarters of the navy's air wing, on 22 May because talks had failed over the release of several naval personnel arrested on suspicion of links to al-Qaeda affiliates.

At least 14 people were killed and two navy warplanes destroyed.On Monday, a former navy commando and his brother were detained for their alleged role in helping plan the raid, which embarrassed the military.

Mr Shahzad's body was found in a canal in Mandi Baha Uddin in Pakistan's northern Gujarat district.

Earlier, Human Rights Watch researcher Ali Dayan Hasan said Mr Shahzad had recently complained about being threatened by the ISI. The ISI official said there was no evidence in his correspondence to Mr Hasan which suggested he was subjected to "veiled or unveiled threats" from the ISI.Mr Shahzad worked for the Italian news agency Adnkronos International (AKI) and was Pakistan bureau chief for Asia Times Online.

Human rights groups recently called Pakistan the most dangerous place in the world for journalists to operate, saying they were under threat from Islamist militants but also Pakistan's military and intelligence agencies.