Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh

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Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh
Born (1973-12-23) December 23, 1973 (age 41)
London, United Kingdom
Ethnicity British Pakistani
Citizenship British
Education London School of Economics
Religion Islam

Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh (Urdu: احمد عمر سعید شیخ‎) (sometimes known as Umar Sheikh, Sheikh Omar,[1] Sheik Syed,[2] or by the alias "Mustafa Muhammad Ahmad"[3]) (born December 23, 1973) is a British terrorist of Pakistani descent with links to various Islamist militant organisations, including Jaish-e-Mohammed, al-Qaeda, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and the Taliban.

He was arrested and served time in prison for the 1994 kidnappings of Western tourists in India, an act which he acknowledges. He was released from captivity in 1999 and provided safe passage into Afghanistan with the support of Taliban in exchange for passengers aboard hijacked Indian Airlines Flight 814. He is most well known for his role in the 2002 kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Sheikh Omar Saeed was arrested by Pakistani police on February 12, 2002, in Lahore, in connection with the Pearl kidnapping,[4] and was sentenced to death on July 15, 2002[5] for killing Pearl. His judicial appeal has not yet been heard. The delay has been ascribed to his purported links with MI6.[6]

Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, in his book In the Line of Fire, stated that Sheikh was originally recruited by British intelligence agency, MI6, while studying at the London School of Economics. He alleges Omar Sheikh was sent to the Balkans by MI6 to engage in jihadi operations. Musharraf later went on to state, "At some point, he probably became a rogue or double agent".[7]

His complicity in the murder and the reasons behind it are in dispute.[8] At his initial court appearance, he stated, "I don't want to defend this case. I did this... Right or wrong, I had my reasons. I think that our country shouldn't be catering to America's needs",[9] but he subsequently appealed his conviction and is awaiting further progress while in prison. Sheikh's lawyer has stated he will base his client's appeal on the admission of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, made public in 2007, that he is the killer of Daniel Pearl.[8][10][11][12][13][14]

He is currently being held in Hyderabad Central Jail in Pakistan.[15]

Early life[edit]

In his youth he attended Forest School, Walthamstow, an independent school in North-East London, whose alumni include English cricket captain Nasser Hussain and Peter Greenaway and singer Suzana Ansar , the filmmaker. Between the ages of 14 and 16 he attended Aitchison College, the most exclusive boys boarding school in Pakistan, where his family had temporarily relocated. He later returned to the United Kingdom to continue at Forest School.[16] He told school friends that he had been in Pakistan learning about jihad, but was not believed. He was a fine chess-player and won a junior London championship.[citation needed] Later, he attended the London School of Economics,[17] but dropped out before the end of his first year of undergraduate studies. [1]

Kidnapping of American and British nationals, 1994[edit]

He served five years in prison in Ghaziabad in the 1990s in connection with the 1994 abduction of three British travellers, Myles Croston, 28, Paul Rideout, 26 and Rhys Partridge, 27, and one American, Béla Nuss, 43.[16][18]

Hijacking and release from prison[edit]

In 1999, Indian Airlines Flight 814 was hijacked from Nepal. Its hijackers demanded his release along with Masood Azhar and Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, who were leaders of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, to Pakistan.[16] The plane landed in Kandahar and Taliban militia surrounded the plane, pre-empting any Indian commando operation. After negotiations between the Indian government and the hijackers, the hostages were freed eight days after the hijacking occurred, although a passenger by the name of Rupan Katyal was stabbed to death by one of the hijackers. Omar Sheikh along with the two other prisoners were released in exchange for the hostages.

Media descriptions[edit]

The Times describes Saeed Sheikh as "no ordinary terrorist but a man who has connections that reach high into Pakistan's military and intelligence elite and into the innermost circles of Osama Bin Laden and the al-Qaeda organization." According to ABC, Sheikh began working for Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in 1993. By 1994 he was operating training camps in Afghanistan and had earned the title of bin Laden's "special son.".[19]

In May 2002, the Washington Post quotes an unnamed Pakistani as saying that the ISI paid Sheikh's legal fees during his 1994 trial in India on charges of kidnap.[20]

In 2008, National Geographic Adventure aired a show called Locked up Abroad: "India/Hostage to Terror" in which Sheikh is depicted. He introduced himself to foreigners as Rohit Sharma, a typically Hindu Indian name to disguise his real ethnic background.

Connection with 9/11 hijackers[edit]

On October 6, 2001, a senior-level U.S. government official, told CNN that U.S. investigators had discovered Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh (Sheik Syed), using the alias "Mustafa Muhammad Ahmad" had sent about $100,000 from the United Arab Emirates to Mohamed Atta. "Investigators said Atta then distributed the funds to conspirators in Florida in the weeks before the deadliest acts of terrorism on U.S. soil that destroyed the World Trade Center, heavily damaged the Pentagon and left thousands dead. In addition, sources have said Atta sent thousands of dollars—believed to be excess funds from the operation—back to Saeed in the United Arab Emirates in the days before September 11. CNN later confirmed this.[21]

The 9/11 Commission's Final Report states that the source of the funds "remains unknown."

More than a month after the money transfer was discovered, the head of ISI, General Mahmud Ahmed resigned from his position. It was reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was investigating the possibility that Gen. Ahmed ordered Saeed Sheikh to send the $100,000 to Atta [19]

The Wall Street Journal was one of the only Western news organizations to follow up on the story, citing the Times of India: "US authorities sought General Mahmud Ahmed's removal after confirming the fact that $100,000 was wired to WTC hijacker Mohamed Atta from Pakistan by Ahmad Umar Sheikh at the insistence of General Mahmud."[22] Another Indian newspaper, the Daily Excelsior, quoting FBI sources, reported that the "FBI’s examination of the hard disk of the cellphone company Omar Sheikh had subscribed to led to the discovery of the "link" between him and the deposed chief of the Pakistani ISI, Mahmud Ahmed. And as the FBI investigators delved deep, reports surfaced with regard to the transfer of $100,000 to Mohamed Atta, one of the ringleaders of the September 11 attacks, who flew a hijacked Boeing commercial airliner into the World Trade Center. General Mahmud Ahmed, the FBI investigators found, fully knew about the transfer of money to Atta."[23]

U.S. investigators later said that this was a confusion with Mustafa al-Hawsawi, also known as Mustafa Muhammad Ahmad, who is currently held in Guantanamo Bay.[24]

The Pittsburgh Tribune notes that there "are many in Musharraf's government who believe that Saeed Sheikh's power comes not from the ISI, but from his connections with our own CIA."[25]

Sheikh rose to prominence with the 2002 killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who at the time was in Pakistan investigating connections between the ISI and Islamic militant groups. In Pakistan, Sheikh was sentenced to death for killing Pearl, however his complicity in the execution and the reasons behind it are in dispute. Further adding to the confusion surrounding the issue is that Khalid Sheikh Muhammad personally claimed to have been Pearl's killer.[26]

Omar Saeed Sheikh was seemingly implicated by Benazir Bhutto, just before her own death, in a hypothetical murder of Osama Bin Laden (which must have occurred in late 2001 or 2002).[27] Several commentators have noted that, as she had previously been speaking about one of the sons of bin Laden during the interview, in all likelihood, Bhutto simply misspoke and had intended to say, "Omar Sheikh, the man who murdered Daniel Pearl," rather than "...the man who murdered bin Laden" - such an important revelation about bin Laden's fate would certainly not have been stated so casually. Additionally, in subsequent interviews, Bhutto spoke about bin Laden in the context of him being alive.[28]

Pearl kidnapping[edit]

Sheikh Omar Saeed was arrested by Pakistani police on February 12, 2002, in Lahore, in conjunction with the Pearl kidnapping. Pearl had been kidnapped, had his throat slit, and then been beheaded.[4] Sheikh told the Pakistani court, however, that he had surrendered to the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency a week earlier.[29]

Sheikh's lawyer Abdul Waheed Katpar claims Sheikh was arrested on February 5, 2002 and not on February 12, and that evidence against the four suspects was fabricated by Pakistani police while the suspects were held in secret for a week. He also claims confessions were obtained under duress of torture and solitary confinement.

In January 2011, in summarizing a report prepared by The Center for Public Integrity and The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, Benjamin Wittes, a scholar at the Brookings Institute, wrote that it appeared Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh was framed.[11][12][13][14] Another man, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (no relation), a former CIA captive, who had been tortured in 2003 in the CIA's archipelago of black sites, had confessed to the murder, and the report concluded his confession was credible. According to Wittes's summary Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh had been responsible for the original kidnapping. But his plan was to hold Pearl for a ransom. According to Wittes's summary this original ransom plan was abandoned when Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh was pressured to hand Pearl over to al Qaeda operatives. According to Wittes's summary the report concluded:

  • In their haste to close the case, Pakistani authorities knowingly used perjured testimony to pin the actual act of murder on Omar Sheikh and his three coconspirators.
  • While the four were involved in the kidnapping plan and certainly were culpable, they were not present when Pearl was murdered. Others, who were present and actually assisted in the brutal beheading, were not charged.

According to Wittes's summary, FBI forensic experts had confirmed Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's confession through "vein matching" matching the pattern of the vein's in the killer's hands in the video.[11][14]

The lead author of the report was Pearl's good friend, and colleague, journalist Asri Nomani.[13]

Hoax calls[edit]

In the aftermath of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, tensions increased dramatically between India and Pakistan. On November 28, a hoax caller pretending to be then Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee (current President of India) threatened Pakistan President Zardari with war, leading to the Pakistan military being put in high alert. Military aircraft with live ammunition were scrambled to patrol above Islamabad and Rawalpindi.[30] The same caller tried to get in touch with the real Pranab Mukherjee and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice by claiming he was President Zardari but was unable to get through to either.[31]

A year after the Mumbai attacks, Pakistan's Dawn newspaper revealed that the hoax caller had been Omar Saeed Sheikh. Using a cell phone he had smuggled into his prison cell, Omar Sheikh made the calls using a British SIM card.[31] After the source of the hoax calls became known, intelligence agents confiscated Omar Sheikh's illegal phones and SIM cards.[31]


  1. ^ Note that this term is more commonly used in reference to Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman
  2. ^ Syed being a wrong transliteration of سعید
  3. ^ CNN.com October 6, 2001. "Suspected hijack bankroller freed by India in '99". CNN. October 6, 2001. Retrieved 2006-09-22. 
  4. ^ a b CNN Transcript "Suspected Mastermind of Pearl Killing Arrested". CNN. February 7, 2001. Retrieved 2006-06-29.  February 12, 2002.
  5. ^ Ansari, Massoud. "The Mystery Thickens.". Archived from the original on 2006-02-07. Retrieved 2006-06-29.  Newsline April 2005.
  6. ^ Jane Mayer (2007-08-13). "The Black Sites: A rare look inside the C.I.A.’s secret interrogation program.". New Yorker. 
  7. ^ McGrory, Daniel (2006-09-26). "CIA paid Pakistan for terror suspects". The Australian. 
  8. ^ a b Sadaqat Jan (2007-03-18). "Lawyer to Appeal Pearl Case Conviction". Washington Post. 
  9. ^ "Kidnap journalist is dead, claims militant". Retrieved 2006-06-29. 
  10. ^ "Daniel Pearl's murder: Omar to utilise Khalids claim". Daily Times. 2007-03-19. 
  11. ^ a b c Benjamin Wittes (2011-01-20). "So KSM Really Did Kill Daniel Pearl". Lawfare. Retrieved 2013-10-10. The investigation produced a lengthy report concluding, among other things, that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was telling the truth when he boasted at his CSRT hearing of “decapitat[ing] with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew, Daniel Pearl.” 
  12. ^ a b Asra Q. Nomani et al. (2011-01-20). "The Pearl Project". The Center for Public Integrity. Retrieved 2013-10-10. 
  13. ^ a b c Peter Finn (2011-01-20). "Khalid Sheik Mohammed killed U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl, report finds". Washington Post. Retrieved 2013-10-10. A recently completed investigation of the killing of Daniel Pearl in Pakistan nine years ago makes public new evidence that a senior al-Qaeda operative executed the Wall Street Journal reporter. 
  14. ^ a b c Ben Farmer (2011-01-20). "Daniel Pearl was beheaded by 9/11 mastermind". London: The Telegraph (UK). Retrieved 2013-10-10. The photographs were shared with CIA colleagues holding Mohammed, who used a forensic technique called "vein matching" to determine the hands belonged to the same man. 
  15. ^ "Hyderabad Central Jail beefs up security to prevent breach". Express Tribune. 2013-08-04. 
  16. ^ a b c McGinty, Stephen. The Scotsman, July 16, 2002. "The English Islamic Terrorist.". The Scotsman (Edinburgh). July 16, 2002. Retrieved 2006-09-22. [dead link]
  17. ^ Hertzberg, Hendrik. "Kidnapped." The New Yorker. 18 February 2002. Retrieved on 26 April 2011.
  18. ^ Dugger, Celia W. (February 8, 2002). "A NATION CHALLENGED: A SUSPECT; Confession in 1994 Case Evokes Pearl Abduction". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-04-27. 
  19. ^ a b Sept. 11's Smoking Gun: The Many Faces of Saeed Sheikh
  20. ^ Pearl Trial Moving to New Site After Threats The Washington Post.
  21. ^ India wants terror spotlight on Kashmir - CNN
  22. ^ 'Our Friends the Pakistanis' - The Wall Street Journal
  23. ^ FBI, CIA benefit from RAW's inputs - The Daily Excelsior
  24. ^ Kevin McCoy (18 December 2001). "Court papers cite al-Hawsawi in funding attacks". USA Today. 
  25. ^ Did Pearl die because Pakistan deceived CIA? - The Pittsburgh Tribune
  26. ^ "Khalid Sheikh Mohammed: I beheaded American reporter - CNN.com". CNN. 
  27. ^ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5F1dSY4d5b8
  28. ^ David Ray Griffin (2009). Osama bin Laden : dead or alive?. Northampton, Mass.: Olive Branch Press. p. 87. ISBN 1566567831. 
  29. ^ Wright, Abi. Committee to Protect Journalists, May 2006. "Heading into Danger.". Archived from the original on 29 June 2006. Retrieved 2006-06-29. 
  30. ^ pakistan-on-full-military-alert-after-hoax-call
  31. ^ a b c Jailed militant’s hoax calls drove India, Pakistan to brink of war Dawn, Pakistan.

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