International Papers

From Arm-Wrestler to Allah-Warrior

Yesterday, after a Pakistani court condemned Briton Abdul Omar Saeed Sheikh to death for his role in the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, the Independent’s Robert Fisk said the case was far from closed. Although he conceded that “[f]ew Westerners … doubt that Omar Sheikh was involved in Daniel Pearl’s murder,” he complained, “No reporters were allowed to witness the 13 weeks of proceedings. The body, said to be that of Mr Pearl, was dug up in a Karachi slum on 17 May but has never been formally identified. Even the results of the DNA analysis of the remains has stayed secret.” The Independent also supported the British Foreign Office’s objections to the death sentence: “It is the respect for every individual life that has led to the abolition of capital punishment in Britain. In the end, it is only an adherence to the best of our own values that will undermine Muslim support for those extremists who have declared war on us in the name of Islam.”

Several English papers asked how a young man who had attended a pricey private school and the prestigious London School of Economics could turn into an apparently remorseless criminal. The Times offered the most detail on Sheikh’s early days, including his tenure as school chess champion and his hero-worship of Sylvester Stallone, whose arm-wrestling exploits in the movie Over the Top so enthralled Sheikh that he ended up on Britain’s national arm-wrestling squad. The paper also revealed that in 1999 Sheikh refused to betray al-Qaida when British officials offered to secure his release from an Indian jail (he was accused of kidnapping British and American tourists) in exchange for information about Western recruits in militant Islamist organizations.

Pakistan’s English-language press showed little interest in the case. None of the main papers’ Web sites commented on the sentencing in their Tuesday editorial or op-ed pages, with Dawn, the Frontier Post, the Nation, and News Internationalall focusing instead on President Pervez Musharraf’s latest attempts to reshape the Pakistani constitution.