Journalist found dead after al-Qa’ida link story

A PAKISTANI journalist has been found dead near the capital Islamabad after writing about links between the Pakistani military and al-Qa’ida.

Syed Saleem Shahzad, 40, worked for an Italian news agency and an online news site registered in Hong Kong. He went missing on Sunday after he left his home in the capital to take part in a television talk show, but never arrived.

Officials said his body was identified by relatives after being found near his car in Sarai Alamgir, 150km southeast of Islamabad.

“Relatives visited the police station and now they have identified the dead body. They said it is the body of journalist Saleem Shahzad,” police official Zulfiqar Ali said.

He disappeared two days after writing an investigative report in Asia Times Online that al-Qa’ida carried out last week’s attack on a naval air base to avenge the arrest of naval officials arrested on suspicion of al-Qa’ida links.

Ali Dayan Hasan, senior South Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, said Mr Shahzad had complained about being threatened by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.

“The other day he visited our office and informed us that ISI had threatened him. He told us that if anything happened to him, we should inform the media about the situation and threats,” Mr Hasan said.

“We can form an opinion after the investigation and a court verdict, but … in the past the ISI has been involved in similar incidents.”

The naval base attack on May 22 took 17 hours to repel.

Officials said six militants destroyed two US-made surveillance aircraft and killed 10 security personnel in the standoff.

The country’s umbrella Taliban faction claimed responsibility, saying the attack was carried out to avenge the US killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, which reopened questions about complicity with al-Qa’ida within the military.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani ordered an inquiry into the kidnapping and murder, pledging that the culprits would be “brought to book”.

Mr Shahzad’s Italian employer Adnkronos (AKI) confirmed the death and earlier said it feared he had been kidnapped. He was also Pakistan bureau chief for Asia Times Online.

In 2006, he was kidnapped by the Taliban in Helmand in southern Afghanistan. Then, his kidnappers accused him of being a spy but set him free after seven days.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan had earlier on Monday expressed alarm about Shahzad’s disappearance and described as “exceedingly disturbing” reports that he might have been abducted by a state agency.

Shahzad is survived by his wife and three children.

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