Often threatened, Pakistani journalist Saleem Shahzad found dead after abduction

Islamabad: A well-known Pakistani journalist has been found dead after being abducted over the weekend in an upscale neighbourhood of the capital and receiving repeated threats from Pakistan's premier intelligence agency.

The journalist, Syed Saleem Shehzad, 41, wrote predominantly about security and terrorism issues for the Hong Kong-based Asia Times Online and the Italian news agency Adnkronos International. He disappeared Sunday evening in the centre of the capital, Islamabad, just two days after writing an article suggesting that a militant attack on the navy's main base in Karachi on May 22 was carried out because the navy was trying to crack down on cells from Al Qaeda that had infiltrated the force.

Pakistan's armed forces, and specifically the Pakistani Navy, have been highly embarrassed by the 16-hour battle that ensued at the base when six attackers climbed over a wall and blew up two American-made naval surveillance planes. Ten people were killed in the attack, and American and Chinese technicians working on the base only narrowly escaped injury as they were driven out through a hail of bullets.

A former navy commando, Kamran Malik, was arrested Friday, along with his brother, in a sweep by Pakistani intelligence agents in connection with the attack.

Coming soon after the American raid on May 2 that killed Osama bin Laden, which caught the Pakistani army and air force flat-footed, the attack on the naval base has shocked the entire country. The armed forces chiefs have been deeply angered by the humiliation they have suffered from both episodes, and in particular the many questions raised about their competence by Pakistan's increasingly rambunctious media.

Journalists reacted to Mr. Shehzad's death Tuesday with horror and said the military and the chief intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, were sending a warning to others.

Mr. Shehzad's body was found Monday about 100 miles away near his abandoned car and was identified from photos by his family Tuesday. Pictures of his body shown on television revealed that his face had been severely beaten.

Ali Dayan Hasan, country representative of Human Rights Watch in Pakistan, said his abduction and killing bore all the hallmarks of Pakistan's intelligence agencies. "It is quite clear by his own account and from his reports that they were deeply unhappy with his reporting," Mr. Hasan said.

Mr. Shehzad had been receiving threats from the ISI for about three years because of his reporting that often relied on sources inside the intelligence agencies and inside the Taliban and other militant groups. Mr. Hasan said he had managed to confirm Monday that Mr. Shehzad was being held by the ISI.

Mr. Shehzad had a history of threats from the intelligence service. He moved from his hometown, Karachi, to the capital several years ago after receiving threats. Last October, he was called in by senior ISI officials who delivered a clear death threat to him if he did not reveal his sources on a recent story he had written, Mr. Hasan said.

According to Mr. Shehzad's own written account after the encounter, the two officials were naval officers, Rear Adm. Adnan Nazir, the director general of the media wing of the ISI, and his deputy, Commodore Khalid Pervaiz, who has just been appointed to replace the commander of the Mehran naval base in Karachi after last week's attack. Calls to the ISI and the military press office for comment went unanswered.

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani expressed deep grief over the death of Mr. Shehzad and ordered an immediate inquiry into his kidnapping and death, the government news agency Associated Press of Pakistan reported.

Mr. Shehzad was driving to a television studio on Sunday evening to be interviewed about his latest article when he was abducted. He never arrived for the interview and did not return home afterward. His wife called Mr. Hasan at Human Rights Watch because he was one of the people he told her to contact in the event of his disappearance.

Mr. Hasan said he was able to establish that Mr. Shehzad was being held by the ISI through senior government officials and unofficial channels. He was told that Mr. Shehzad would be released Monday night, but in fact it seems he was already dead by then.

Mr. Shehzad found himself like a growing number of Pakistani journalists caught in a pincer between the intelligence agencies, which act outside the law in detaining and pressuring journalists, and increasingly ruthless militant groups, Mr. Hasan said. "It makes it very dangerous to report between the two," he said.

Pakistan became the deadliest country in the world for journalists last year as eight journalists were killed there in the course of their work in 2010, the Committee for Protection of Journalists reported. Six of the eight were killed in suicide bombings or cross-fire as the insurgency has intensified in Pakistan, but journalists have also suffered beatings, disappearances, and threats from the military and intelligence service as well as from militant groups.

An award winning investigative reporter, Umar Cheema, was kidnapped and beaten over a period of six hours on the outskirts of Islamabad last September. Mr. Cheema had written several articles for The News, a prominent daily, that were critical of the army. He blames the ISI, which is an integral part of the military, for his abduction.

"This is the law of the jungle, of armed actors who can kill you or hang you upside down until you are dead, and one of them is a state body and that is appalling," Mr. Hasan said.

Still, Mr. Shehzad was undaunted. A young reporter, Ihsan Tipu, who worked with Mr. Shehzad, said he consulted him just days ago about the dangers of reporting in Pakistan. "He said, 'Don't quit, look at me, I have faced threats and I am still reporting,' " he said.
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