An anti-terrorist judge in France has thrown weight behind claims that the murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl and the bombing of French engineers in Karachi both had their roots in murky arms deals with Pakistani officials.
In 2002, two brutal terrorist attacks targeting westerners in the Pakistani city of Karachi shocked the world.
In January that year, the American journalist Daniel Pearl was kidnapped before being beheaded in cold blood by his captors. A video was later released showing his execution.
Three months later, on May 8, a bomber targeted a bus carrying French naval engineers working for the majority state owned Direction of Naval Construction (DCN). The blast left 11 engineers dead.
Apart from being carried out in the same city, the two attacks appeared at first to have little in common.
On Monday, Judge Marc Trevidic, who is charged with investigating the bomb attack on the French engineers, met with the families of the 11 victims in Paris.
Trevidic told them of his latest findings, which support a theory first put forward in a 2008 internal report by DCN titled ‘Nautilus’ that suggested both attacks were linked to a breakdown in arms deals with Pakistan.
“It was a rumour, now it has become a certainty” wrote French daily Le Parisien, which broke the story of Trevidic’s findings on Monday.
The implication of Pakistan’s secret services (ISI) in both cases is “no longer in doubt” added Le Parisien.
Speaking after the meeting, Sandrine Leclerc, whose father died in the Karachi attack, told reporters: “The parallel between the case of the murder of Daniel Pearl and that involving the deaths of our loved ones is obvious. They are linked to arms contracts.”
Oliver Morice, a lawyer for the victims’ families, said “the findings of the investigating Judge Trevidic have given very significant credibility to the ‘Nautilus’ report.”
Breach of arms deals
The killing of the French engineers, who were working on a submarine construction project, sparked outrage in France.
Pakistani police immediately placed the blame at the door of Islamic fundamentalists, but the radicals initially condemned to death for the attack were found not guilty on appeal.
Nevertheless, Jean-Louis Brugière, the French judge in charge of the case at the time, continued to pursue the line that Islamic radicals were to blame.
But when Trevidic took over the case in 2007, he began examining the theory that the bombing was linked to deals Pakistan made with France to purchase submarines.
Trevidic investigated whether the attack was revenge by Pakistani officials who were angry that then-president Jacques Chirac blocked the payment of kickbacks linked to the deal.
“We know that there may have been retaliatory operations related to the breaching of arms contracts. It is for the judge to now consolidate the findings of the ‘Nautilus’ report,” said the lawyer Morice.
The “Karachi affair,” as it has been named in France, has even ensnared members of the French ruling class with investigators looking into allegations that kickbacks from the arms sales to Pakistan helped fund the failed 1995 presidential primary campaign of Edouard Balladur.
Balladur’s campaign spokesperson at the time was none other than recently-departed president Nicolas Sarkozy.
Parallel with Pearl’s murder
The murder of Daniel Pearl, just three months before the bus bombing, was also initially attributed to Islamic fundamentalists linked to al Qaeda.
But one of the demands made by his kidnappers after his abduction also pointed to a possible ulterior motive.
In two emails sent just after his kidnapping, his captors listed a number of conditions for the release of their hostage, one of which was for the United States to deliver the F-16 fighter jets that Pakistan had paid for but never received due to a diplomatic wrangle.
During his trip to the United States in February, Trevidic requested access to past hearings of Sheikh Omar, the British-born militant of Pakistani descent who was considered to be the mastermind behind Pearl’s murder and is currently in prison in Pakistan.
The evidence subsequently confirmed the emails' authenticity.
“The two authenticated emails indicate that it was not al Qaeda behind the kidnapping, but Pakistani nationals, because of the F-16 deal,” Marie Dose, lawyer for the families told AFP news agency.
However, some give little credence to the view that both cases are linked to a breach in arms contracts, including Sarkozy, who labelled the allegations a “grotesque fairy tale”.
The doubters argue the seven-year time difference between Chirac’s decision to stop the payment of kickbacks and the bomb blast were too great for them to be linked.
“From now on, Marc Trevidic can quite easily dismiss this argument,” argued Le Parisien.
Date created : 2012-06-26