The four men imprisoned for killing Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl were not present during his beheading but were convicted of murder because Pakistani authorities knowingly relied on perjured testimony and ignored other leads, says a report released Thursday.
The results of the Pearl Project, an investigation carried out by a team of American journalists and students and spanning more than three years, raise troubling questions about Pakistan's dysfunctional criminal-justice system and underscore the limits U.S. officials face in relying on Pakistani authorities.
The four men convicted in the killing did help kidnap the American journalist, according to the investigation. But it says forensic evidence known as "vein-matching" bolsters the confession of al-Qaida operative Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the professed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, to having killed Pearl.
The report says that at least 14 of 27 people involved in abducting and murdering Pearl in 2002 are thought to remain free.
Pearl, 38, was abducted from this southern port city Jan. 23, 2002, while researching an article on Islamist militancy after 9/1 1. On Feb. 21, 2002, a video of Pearl's killing was delivered to U.S. officials in Pakistan. His remains were found in a shallow grave on Karachi's outskirts three months later.
Within months of Pearl's disappearance, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, a British national of Pakistani heritage, and three accomplices were arrested, charged, and convicted of murder and kidnapping. Sheikh, described as the kidnapping's mastermind, was sentenced to death in July 2002. The three others were sentenced to life in prison, which in Pakistan usually means 25 years.
The Pearl Project's findings appear to strengthen the defense's hand.
For instance, it finds significant discrepancies between Pakistani police reports and later court testimony, including that of a taxi driver whose account was considered crucial to the conviction.
The murder case against the four convicts also appears weakened by Mohammed's suspected role.
Mohammed claimed after his capture that he had beheaded Pearl. He is being held in the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the confession is believed to have come during interrogation that included waterboarding.