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Daniel Pearl

(1963 - 2002)

Daniel Pearl was a Jewish American journalist for the Wall Street Journal who was kidnapped and killed by Islamic terrorists in Pakistan soon after 9/11.

Pearl was born October 10, 1963, in New Jersey and grew up with his family in California. He attended Stanford University from 1981 to 1985 where he eventually graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a bachelor of arts in communciations. He began his journalism career as an intern with the Indianapolis Star and eventually joined a few small papers in Massachusetts before taking a job with the San Francisco Business Times.

Hired by the Wall Street Journal’s Atlanta bureau in 1990, Pearl would spend the rest of his career with the major international paper. In 1993, he moved to their Washington, DC office and, in 1996, he was transferred to London. In October 2000, Pearl became the Journal’s South Asia bureau chief and he moved with his wife to India where he reported on the global war on terrorism and also took repeated trips into Pakistan in an effort to retrace the steps of “shoe bomber” Richard Reid.

On January 23, 2002, while on his way to what he thought was an interview with Sheik Gilani, a Muslim spiritual leader in Pakistan, Pearl was kidnapped in Karachi by terrorists from a group calling itself The National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty. Claiming Pearl was an American spy, the terrorists demanded that the United States free all of their Pakistani terror detainees and release their halted shipment of fighter planes to the Pakistani government.

An email sent by the terrorists read: “We give you one more day if America will not meet our demands we will kill Daniel. Then this cycle will continue and no American journalist could enter Pakistan.”

Photos of Pearl handcuffed with a gun at his head and holding up a newspaper were attached. The group ignored public pleas for release of the journalist by his editor and his wife Mariane. United States and Pakistani intelligence forces tried to track down the kidnappers.

The U.S. did not capitulate to the demands. Though it was not known at the time, Pearl was tortured and beheaded by his captors on February 1, 2002, nine days after they had sent their email, and his body was cut into ten pieces and buried north of Karachi. On May 16, 2002, Pakistani forces uncovered the remains which were checked and then returned to the United States for proper burial.

Pearl’s fate was only discovered three weeks after the fact when the terrorists released a horrific videotape, entitled The Slaughter of the Spy-Journalist, the Jew Daniel Pearl, that showed the final minutes of Pearl’s life.

In the video Pearl is made to read a statement prepared by the terrorists, which said in part:

My name is Daniel Pearl. I am a Jewish American from Encino, California USA. I come from, uh, on my father’s side the family is Zionist. My father’s Jewish, my mother’s Jewish, I’m Jewish. My family follows Judaism. We’ve made numerous family visits to Israel. Back in the town of Bnei Brak there is a street named after my great grandfather Chaim Pearl who is one of the founders of the town.

Despite being coerced he never disavowed his nation or his Jewish faith.

Two days before his abduction, Pearl had learned that his wife was pregnant and, in May 2002, their son Adam was born in France.

In the wake of the murder, the United States and Pakistan vowed to investigate the murder and bring to justice those responsible. Less than a month later, Pakistani forces captured three suspects and the supposed mastermind of the plot, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh. All four were charged with murder and sentenced to death. 

In 2007, before a military review at Guantanamo Bay prison, Al-Qaeda operative Khalid Sheik Mohammed claimed responsibility for Pearl’s murder, testifying that he was the one who beheaded the journalist. In a confession read during his hearing, Mohammed said “I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew Daniel Pearl, in the city of Karachi, Pakistan.”

A collection of Pearl’s writings (At Home in the World) was published posthumously in 2002. Pearl’s widow, Mariane Pearl, wrote A Mighty Heart about Daniel’s life that was adapted into a film starring Dan Futterman as Daniel Pearl and Angelina Jolie as Mariane Pearl. Bernard-Henri Lévy published Who Killed Daniel Pearl? In 2003. The book, which the author characterized as an “investigative novel,” stirred controversy for some of its speculative conclusions about the killing, for some of its characterizations of Pakistan, and for the author’s decision to engage in an exercise of fictionalizing Pearl’s thoughts in the final moments of his life. In 2004, Pearl’s parents edited and published a collection of responses sent to them from around the globe, entitled I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl.

HBO Films produced a 79-minute documentary titled “The Journalist and the Jihadi: The Murder of Daniel Pearl.” It premiered on HBO on October 10, 2006. The documentary chronicles Pearl’s life and death, and features extensive interviews with his immediate family. It is narrated by Christiane Amanpour, and was nominated for two Emmy Awards.

Shortly after Pearl’s death, his parents founded the Daniel Pearl Foundation. The foundation’s mission is to promote cross-cultural understanding through journalism, music, and dialogue.

In 2002, Pearl posthumously received the Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award from Colby College and, in 2007, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Moral Courage Award from the Houston Holocaust Museum.

The Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture at UCLA was established by the foundation in 2002.

In western Massachusetts, with help from the newspapers there for which Pearl worked early in his career (the North Adams Transcript and the Berkshire Eagle), friends of Pearl established the Daniel Pearl Berkshire Scholarship, awarded annually beginning in 2003.

Since 2003, Stanford’s Department of Communication has awarded a paid summer internship with the Wall Street Journal, known as the “Daniel Pearl Journalism Internship.”

The Samuel Eells Literary and Educational Foundation annually awards the Brother Daniel Pearl Stanford 85’ Award for Literary Excellence to one undergraduate member of the Alpha Delta Phi Society or Fraternity who has displayed exceptional skill and enthusiasm in fiction, non-fiction, poetry, music and lyrics, photography, or film.

In 2005, the Wall Street Journal, in conjunction with the École de Journalisme de Sciences Po, gave the first Daniel Pearl Prize to Louis-Étienne Vigneault-Dubois from Canada.

American minimalist composer Steve Reich wrote his 2006 work Daniel Variations, jointly commissioned by the Daniel Pearl Foundation and the Barbican Centre, which interweaves Pearl’s own words with verses from the Book of Daniel.

On April 16, 2007, Pearl was added to the Holocaust Memorial on Miami Beach as the first non-Holocaust victim. His father gave his consent for the induction to remind generations to come that “The forces of barbarity and evil are still active in our world. The Holocaust didn’t finish in 1945.”

In May 2007, the Communications Technology Magnet School at Birmingham High School in Los Angeles was renamed the Daniel Pearl Magnet High School. In July 2009, it became a stand-alone high school in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

In 2008 the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ bi-annual ICIJ awards were renamed the Daniel Pearl Awards for Outstanding International Investigative Reporting.

In 2010, the International Press Institute named Pearl one of its World Press Freedom Heroes.

On May 19, 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act, which protects U.S. journalists around the world.

In 2010, Moment magazine established The Daniel Pearl Investigative Journalism Initiative (DPIJI) to provide grants and mentors for independent journalists to conduct in-depth reporting on anti-Semitism and other prejudices. The edited stories are published in Moment.

The Sammy Ofer School of Communications at IDC Herzliya introduced the Daniel Pearl International Journalism Institute, a partnership between IDC Herzliya and the Daniel Pearl Foundation. The multimedia newsroom at the School of Communications was named in honor of Daniel Pearl.

Sources: Daniel Pearl Foundation;