US officials link Pakistani spies to reporter’s death

New York Times / July 5, 2011

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ISLAMABAD - Obama administration officials believe that Pakistan’s powerful spy agency ordered the killing of a Pakistani journalist who had written scathing reports about the infiltration of militants in the country’s military, according to US officials.

Classified intelligence obtained before the May 29 disappearance of Saleem Shahzad, 40, from the capital, Islamabad, and after the discovery of his body, showed that senior officials of the spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, directed the attack on him in an effort to silence criticism, two senior administration officials said.

The intelligence, which several administration officials said they believed was reliable, showed that the actions of the ISI were “barbaric and unacceptable,’’ one of the officials said. They would not disclose further details.

But the disclosure of the information in itself could further aggravate the fractured relationship between the United States and Pakistan, which worsened significantly with the US commando raid two months ago that killed Osama bin Laden in a Pakistan safehouse and deeply embarrassed the Pakistani government, military, and intelligence hierarchy.

Obama administration officials will decide in the coming days how to present the information about Shahzad to the Pakistani government, an administration official said.

The disclosure of the intelligence was made in answer to questions about the possibility of its existence and was reluctantly confirmed by the two officials.

“There is a lot of high-level concern about the murder; no one is too busy not to look at this,’’ said one.

A third senior US official said there was enough other intelligence and indicators immediately after Shahzad’s death for the Americans to conclude that the ISI had ordered him killed.

“Every indication is that this was a deliberate, targeted killing that was most likely meant to send shock waves through Pakistan’s journalist community and civil society,’’ said the official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicate nature of the information.

A spokesman for the Pakistani intelligence agency, Zafar Iqbal, said in Islamabad last night that, “I am not commenting on this.’’

In a statement the day after Shahzad’s waterlogged body was retrieved from a canal 60 miles from Islamabad, the ISI publicly denied accusations in the Pakistani news media that it had been responsible, calling them “totally unfounded.’’ top stories on Twitter

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