Syed Saleem Shahzad, the Pakistani journalist reported missing from Islamabad since Sunday evening, was found dead 150 km south of the federal capital 48 hours after he disappeared.
His body bore torture marks and news of his murder triggered another round of criticism of intelligence agencies; the third instance in May when the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) has come under frontal attack.
Shahzad’s disappearance had set off speculation of him being picked up by intelligence agencies for his article suggesting that the attack on the naval airbase, PNS Mehran, was in retaliation to the Navy’s crackdown on al-Qaeda operatives and sympathisers within the service, and its refusal to release some of these elements who had been arrested.
The first of his two-part article appeared on May 27 in Asia Times Online of which he was the Pakistan bureau chief. Shahzad — who covered terrorism-related issues extensively — was last seen on Sunday at 5 p.m. when he left his home to participate in a television programme.
On Monday, 24 hours after he went missing, some Pakistani journalists were apparently told that he had been picked up by intelligence agencies on suspicion of writing for the al-Qaeda and would be released by Monday night.
While there was some skepticism initially on whether he had been detained by intelligence agencies, concern began mounting on Tuesday morning as there was no word of him.
His car was found in the Gujarat district of Punjab and initial reports suggested that a body fished out of a canal in the vicinity was not his. However, worst fears were confirmed within a couple of hours as the body was identified.
Shahzad’s book, ‘Inside Al-Qaeda & The Taliban, Beyond Bin Laden & 9/11’ was launched earlier this month. It also throws light on the Mumbai terror attack which, according to the author, was conceived by Ilyas Kashmiri as a “massive operation’’ aimed at bringing India and Pakistan to war; thereby ensuring a halt to proposed operations against the al-Qaeda.
A plan of the ISI – which had been put in cold storage – was then hijacked by Kashmiri to put India and Pakistan on collision course, Shazad wrote in his book that now remains his last signature on the narrative regarding terrorism in the region.