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Slain Pakistani Journalist 'Had Complained Of Threats' From Intelligence Service


Syed Salim Shahzad worked for "Asia Times Online" and the Italian news agency Adnkronos International.
Fears have arisen over possible threats by Pakistan's powerful intelligence services after a journalist was found dead following articles about alleged links between the Pakistani navy and Al-Qaeda.

Syed Saleem Shahzad, who worked for an Italian news agency and a Hong Kong-registered website, had talked of threats -- allegedly by Pakistan's intelligence services -- on a number of occasions. He was said to have complained of the threats to police and fellow journalists.

The case prompted U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to issue a written statement saying the United States welcomes the launch by Pakistani authorities of an investigation into the killing. The statement said Shahzad's "work reporting on terrorism and intelligence issues in Pakistan brought to light the troubles extremism poses to Pakistan's stability."

The 40-year-old reporter for "Asia Times Online" and the Adnkronos International news agency was last seen when he left home on May 29 to take part in a television talk show but never arrived. Instead, Shahzad's body was found near his abandoned car outside Pakistan's capital, Islamabad.

Police said the corpse showed signs of torture.

Shahzad went missing just two days after he wrote an article asserting that Al-Qaeda had carried out last week's attack on a naval air base in Karachi to avenge the arrest of navy officers suspected of links with the terrorist organization. He was on his way to the studios of Pakistan's Donya television to discuss the article, the last he penned.

The article, published on Asia Times Online, claimed that Al-Qaeda carried out the attack after talks between the navy and the terrorist network failed. According to Shahzad, Al-Qaeda was negotiating with the navy over the release of officers accused of ties to that group.

It wasn't the first time that Shahzad, who specialized in security issues and terrorism, had reported on such sensitive topics. According to friends and colleagues, Shahzad was aware of the risks of his reporting.

The secretary-general of Pakistan's Federal Union of Journalists, Shamsul Islam Naz, told RFE/RL that Shahzad had expressed fears that Pakistan's military intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI), planned retaliation against him for his journalistic work.

"Mr. Saleem Shahzad himself, before his disappearance, told his friends and the police that he had been given a threat by a sensitive agency of the Pakistani ISI that he would be killed if he did not give up his investigative reporting and hitting the ISI and other armed forces agencies [for] involvement and blaming them for any act of commission and non-commission," Naz said.

Naz added that Shahzad had been also summoned over his last story by "some investigative agencies" that had asked him to identify the source of his information.

"On his refusal, he was given a threat of the dire consequences" of not cooperating, Naz said, citing Shahzad's account.

Ali Dayan Hasan, a Pakistan-based senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, said Shahzad had told him that he was under threat from Pakistan's military intelligence agency.

"We can't say for sure who has killed Saleem Shahzad," Hasan was quoted as telling Reuters. "But what we can say for sure is that Saleem Shahzad was under serious threat from the ISI, and Human Rights Watch has every reason to believe that that threat was credible.

The killing highlights the dangers of reporting in Pakistan. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, it was the deadliest country for journalists in 2010, with eight reporter deaths.

With Shahzad's death, three journalists have now lost their lives this year after being targeted in connection with their work.

Shahzad told Human Rights Watch that he was summoned to ISI headquarters in October after he published another controversial story.

According to Shahzad's own written account of the meeting, two ISI officials, Rear Admiral Adnan Nawaz and Commodore Khalid Pervaiz, asked him to reveal the source of his story and to write a denial.

In his account of the meeting, which he e-mailed to HRW's Hasan, Shahzad said that he had refused to comply with the demands.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has expressed grief over Shahzad's death and called for an immediate inquiry into his kidnapping and murder.

based on RFE/RL and Radio Mashaal reporting
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