'Slain Pak journalist wanted to shift abroad with family'



Islamabad: Journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad, slain two days after he filed a report alleging the possible infiltration of the Pakistan Navy by al Qaeda, had spoken to close friends about relocating abroad with his family after receiving several threats in recent months.

The topic of shifting abroad figured in Shahzad's recent conversations with a small group of close friends whom he regularly spoke to, a journalist who was close to the slain reporter said.

Shahzad also spoke on several occasions of threats he was receiving, apparently from intelligence agencies, in his conversations with his friends, said the journalist who did not want to be named for security reasons.

"He was interested in moving to Britain because of the threats. A friend even offered to host Shahzad and his family at his home in Florida in the US. Some of us suggested he should try to get a fellowship abroad," the journalist said.

Shahzad's friends advised him to stop covering sensitive issues related to the Pakistani military in view of the threats he was receiving but he did not listen to them, the journalist said.

Shahzad's friends highlighted several inconsistencies related to his abduction and death that have hitherto not been reported in the media.

The Pakistan bureau chief of Asia Times Online went missing on Sunday evening while driving from his home to a TV station in the heart of Islamabad.

The TV station wanted to interview Shahzad regarding a report he had filed two days earlier, in which he alleged that terrorists attacked the PNS Mehran naval airbase in Karachi on May 22 after the failure of secret talks between the Pakistan Navy and al-Qaeda to free some naval personnel arrested for links to the terrorist network.

Shahzad's friends said he left home on Sunday wearing a grey suit, an off-white shirt and a printed tie in light colours.

When his body was found in a canal at Mandi Bahauddin in Punjab province on Monday afternoon, it was clad in a black suit, a light brown shirt and a dark tie.

Even the shoes had been changed, the friends said. "It seems someone went to a lot of trouble to hide the fact that his clothes were torn while he was tortured," a friend said.

While it was previously reported that Shahzad's cellular phone was switched off just after his abduction on Sunday evening, a friend said the mobile was active late on Monday night and early on Tuesday morning.

"I called the mobile several times around midnight on Monday but the calls were disconnected after a few rings," the friend said.

Shahzad's body was found tangled in nets in a canal at Mandi Bahauddin, about 30 km from the spot where his car was found at Sarai Alamghir near Jhelum.

Police at Mandi Bahauddin hurriedly buried the body after conducting an autopsy.

The body was later exhumed on a local judge's order and taken by Shahzad's family to Karachi, where it was buried yesterday.

Journalist groups and rights organisations like Human Rights Watch have alleged that intelligence agencies were involved in Shahzad's kidnapping and killing but an ISI official yesterday denied that the spy agency was in any way involved in the murder.

PTI