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Pak scribe found dead
- Signs of torture on journalist probing Qaida

Islamabad, May 31 (Agencies): A Pakistani journalist who investigated al Qaida’s alleged infiltration of the navy and told a rights activist he had been threatened by the country’s intelligence agencies was found dead today. Police said his body showed signs of torture.

Two days before he went missing, Syed Saleem Shahzad had written an article in which he contended that al Qaida attacked a naval airbase in Karachi after failed talks with the navy to release some arrested personnel who had terror links.

Shahzad, the author of Inside Al Qaida and Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11, had said that the attack was mainly in response to an internal clampdown on al Qaida affiliates within the Pakistan Navy.

His death underscores the dangers of reporting in Pakistan, which in 2010 was called the deadliest country for journalists. It will also increase scrutiny of Pakistan’s security agencies, already under domestic pressure since the May 2 US raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

Shahzad, a correspondent for the Asia Times Online as well as Italian news agency Adnkronos International, went missing late on Sunday from Islamabad. A brother-in-law identified his body after it was found some 10km from his car in Mandi Bahaudiin district outside the capital. An initial exam found signs of torture, but autopsy results were pending, police official Bilal Ahmad said.

A senior ISI official denied allegations that the agency had anything to do with Shahzad’s case.

“It’s absurd,” the official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to media on the record.

The 40-year-old Shahzad dabbled in some sensitive topics, which would likely have caught the eye of Pakistan’s security establishment. The country’s military and spy networks operate largely outside the law and regularly try to pressure media outlets and individual reporters.

Last October, Shahzad wrote an Asia Times article that claimed that Pakistan had freed an Afghan Taliban commander who had been arrested with much fanfare so that he could “play a pivotal role in backchannel talks through the Pakistani army with Washington”.

Within days, he was summoned to an ISI office, according to an email he sent to Ali Dayan Hasan, a researcher for Human Rights Watch. Intelligence officials pressured him to reveal his sources or retract the story, but he declined.

At the end of the meeting, one of the intelligence officials issued what appeared to be a veiled threat. The official told him the agencies had recently arrested a “terrorist” who had carried a hit list, and that if Shahzad’s name was on the list, he’d let him know.

Shahzad told Hasan that he was sending him the notes of the meeting for the “record only if in case something happens to me or my family in future”.

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