Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh
Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh
|Born||23 December 1973|
|Education||London School of Economics (Did not graduate)|
|Height||6 ft 2 in (188 cm)|
|Criminal charge(s)||Kidnapping, murder|
|Criminal penalty||Death, commuted to life imprisonment|
|Spouse(s)||Saadia Rauf (m.2000–present)|
Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh (Urdu: احمد عمر سعید شیخ; sometimes known as Umar Sheikh, Sheikh Omar,[notes 1] Sheik Syed[notes 2] or by the alias Mustafa Muhammad Ahmad; born 23 December 1973) is a British terrorist who 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. Saeed was arrested by Pakistani police on 12 February 2002, in Lahore, in connection with the Pearl kidnapping and was sentenced to death on 15 July 2002 by special judge of anti terrorism court Syed Ali Ashraf Shah for killing Pearl. Sheikh's murder conviction was overturned by a Pakistani Court on 2 April 2020.
Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, in his book In the Line of Fire, stated that Saeed was originally recruited by British intelligence agency MI6 while studying at the London School of Economics. He alleges Saeed was sent to the Balkans by MI6 to engage in jihadi operations. Musharraf later says, "At some point, he probably became a rogue or double agent".
His complicity in the murder and the reasons behind it have never been in dispute. 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", but he subsequently appealed his conviction and is awaiting further progress while in prison. Saeed'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.
Ahmed Omar Sheikh's parents, Saeed and Qaissra Sheikh, emigrated from Pakistan to UK in 1968 and ran a prosperous clothing business. He was the eldest of three siblings and was born in London on 23 December 1973. In his youth he attended Forest School, Walthamstow, an independent school in North-East London, whose alumni include English cricket captain Nasser Hussain, filmmaker Peter Greenaway and singer Suzana Ansar. 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. Reuters journalist Daniel Flynn, who was a childhood friend, says that he was already an admirer of Pakistan's Islamist dictator General Zia-ul-Haq and returned to London as "a junior boxing champion and full of stories of contacts with organised crime, gun battles in the ghettos of Lahore, visits to brothels."
Later, he attended the London School of Economics, to study applied mathematics, statistics, economics and social psychology, but dropped out during his first year. The Guardian reported that a fellow student of Sheikh's at both the Forest School and the LSE, Syed Ali Hasan, had described him in 2002 as "bright but rather dysfunctional" and said that he had been suspended from school on several occasions because of his violence. He was known for his violence since his childhood, having punched and thrown to the floor a teacher when he was eight years old, and growing up to be a bully. Becoming an adult, a "burly-chested six feet two inches" as per journalist Robert Sam Anson, he would eventually translate this violence into a love for martial arts and sports, participating in the 1992 World Armwrestling Championship in Geneva, while also being a chess champion during his days at the LSE. Noted for his academic abilities, he's also a polyglot who could speak five languages. The Guardian reported that Sheikh came into contact with radical Islamists at the LSE, quoting Hasan as saying "[he] told us he was going to Bosnia driving aid convoys, and he never came back to university".
Kidnapping of American and British nationals, 1994
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.
During his imprisonment years, where he moved from jail to jail in different cities (New Delhi, Meerut, ...), he was noted as wanting to read biographies of Adolf Hitler and Stalin and described "as a tough, militant youth with a sharp, calculating brain well capable of planning and executing terror acts with precision", while his counsel in Meerut, O.P. Sharma, remembers him as a "fanatic to the core" who "believed every non-Muslim is a kafir and must perish", that "there was no concept of democracy in Islam" and even that "at times he turned very violent and behaved like a mentally-challenged person" for instance when "he once beat up one of the deputy jailors at Meerut jail."
Hijacking and release from prison
In 1999, Indian Airlines Flight 814 was hijacked while on the way from Kathmandu, Nepal to New Delhi, India. The hijackers demanded the release of Saeed, Masood Azhar and Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, who were leaders of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, to Pakistan. 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, Ripan Katyal, was stabbed to death by one of the hijackers. The three prisoners were released in exchange for the hostages.
The Times has described Saeed 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 organisation." According to ABC, Saeed 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."
Possible connection with 9/11 hijackers
On 6 October 2001, a senior-level US government official, told CNN that US investigators had discovered Saeed (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 act 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 Syed in the United Arab Emirates in the days before September 11." CNN later confirmed this.
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 to send the $100,000 to Atta.
The Wall Street Journal was one of the only Western news organisations to follow up on the story, citing the Times of India: "US authorities sought General Mahmud Ahmed's removal after confirming that $100,000 was wired to WTC hijacker Mohamed Atta from Pakistan by Ahmad Umar Sheikh at the insistence of General Mahmud." Another Indian newspaper, the Daily Excelsior, quoting FBI sources, reported that the "FBI's examination of the hard disk of the cellphone company Saeed 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 11 September attacks, who flew the hijacked American Airlines Flight 11 Boeing 767-223ER commercial airliner into the North Tower of World Trade Center. General Mahmud Ahmed, the FBI investigators found, fully knew about the transfer of money to Atta."
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."
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, Saeed was sentenced to death for killing Pearl, however his complicity in Pearl's 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.
Saeed 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). 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.
Daniel Pearl kidnapping
Saeed was arrested by Pakistani police on 12 February 2002, in Lahore, in connection with the Daniel Pearl kidnapping. Pearl had been kidnapped, had his throat slit, and then been beheaded. Sheikh told the Pakistani court, however, that he had surrendered to the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency a week earlier.
Saeed's lawyer Abdul Waheed Katpar claims Saeed was arrested on 5 February 2002 and not on 12 February, 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. However, Saeed also told Pakistani officials in court in February 2002 that "as far as I know" Pearl had been killed.
In January 2011, a report prepared by The Center for Public Integrity and The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, concluded Omar Sheikh was the mastermind of the plot to kidnap Pearl, leading to his subsequent murder. The report also confirmed the role of three codefendants convicted with Sheikh in Pearl's case. Nonetheless, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, 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. The report noted that FBI forensic experts had confirmed Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's confession through "vein matching", identifying the pattern of the veins in the killer's hands in the video.
In the aftermath of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, tensions increased dramatically between India and Pakistan. On 28 November, a hoax caller pretending to be then Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee 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. The same caller tried to get in touch with the real Pranab Mukherjee and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, claiming he was President Zardari but was unable to get through to either.
A year after the Mumbai attacks, Pakistan's Dawn newspaper revealed that the hoax caller had been Saeed. Using a mobile phone smuggled into his prison cell, Saeed made the calls using a British SIM card. After the source of the hoax calls became known, intelligence agents confiscated Saeed's illegal phones and SIM cards and he was placed in solitary confinement.
In Popular Culture
- Note that this term is more commonly used in reference to Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman
- Syed being an incorrect transliteration of سعید
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Benjamin Wittes (20 January 2011). "So KSM Really Did Kill Daniel Pearl". Lawfare. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
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."
- Asra Q. Nomani; et al. (20 January 2011). "The Pearl Project". The Center for Public Integrity. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
Peter Finn (20 January 2011). "Khalid Sheik Mohammed killed U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl, report finds". The Washington Post. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
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.
Ben Farmer (20 January 2011). "Daniel Pearl was beheaded by 9/11 mastermind". The Telegraph. London. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
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.
- "Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the Man Rajkummar Rao Plays in 'Omerta'".
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- Rohan Gunaratna, Khuram Iqbal, Pakistan: Terrorism Ground Zero, Reaktion Books, 2012, p. 200
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- Suktara Ghosh (15 March 2018), "Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the Man Rajkummar Rao Plays in ‘Omerta’", The Quint. Retrieved 31 March 2020.
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- "Saeed Sheikh Believed to Have Abetted Terrorists", transcript from the CNN
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- "Shaky evidence".
- "The toughest boy in school".
- "The Daniel Pearl Case: Questions And Answers".
- "Omar Sheikh Made the Hoax Call to Zardari".
- "Daniel Pearl case: SHC judge declines to hear Omar Saeed Sheikh's appeal".
- Dugger, Celia W. (8 February 2002). "A NATION CHALLENGED: A SUSPECT; Confession in 1994 Case Evokes Pearl Abduction". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 April 2010.
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- "The English Islamic Terrorist". The Scotsman. Edinburgh. 16 July 2002. Archived from the original on 19 September 2005. Retrieved 22 September 2006.
- Sept. 11's Smoking Gun: The Many Faces of Saeed Sheikh Archived 7 February 2005 at the Wayback Machine
- Pearl Trial Moving to New Site After Threats The Washington Post.
- Banged Up Abroad: India: Hostage to Terror on IMDb
- "CNN.com – Suspected hijack bankroller freed by India in '99 – October 6, 2001".
- "India wants terror spotlight on Kashmir". CNN. Archived from the original on 19 September 2005.
- 'Our Friends the Pakistanis' – The Wall Street Journal
- FBI, CIA benefit from RAW's inputs – The Daily Excelsior Archived 12 December 2005 at the Wayback Machine
- Kevin McCoy (18 December 2001). "Court papers cite al-Hawsawi in funding attacks". USA Today.
- Did Pearl die because Pakistan deceived CIA? – The Pittsburgh Tribune Archived 15 February 2006 at the Wayback Machine
- "Khalid Sheikh Mohammed: I beheaded American reporter - CNN". CNN.
- justamused (1 May 2011). "Benazir Bhutto, David Frost, and Osama Bin Laden (Al Jazeera English – 'Frost Over The World")" – via YouTube.
- David Ray Griffin (2009). Osama bin Laden : dead or alive?. Northampton, Mass.: Olive Branch Press. p. 87. ISBN 1566567831.
Benazir Bhutto bin laden murdered misspoke.
- Wright, Abi. Committee to Protect Journalists, May 2006. "Heading into Danger". Archived from the original on 29 June 2006. Retrieved 29 June 2006.
- "Pakistan on full military alert after hoax call". 7 December 2008.
- Jailed militant’s hoax calls drove India, Pakistan to brink of war Dawn, Pakistan.
- "Omar Sheikh attempts suicide in Pak jail". The Times of India. Mumbai. 16 February 2014. Retrieved 20 January 2015.