The death of Saleem Shahzad has been shrouded in mystery ever since the Pakistani reporter for the Asia Times Online was found dead in a canal outside Islamabad in late May with 17 lacerated wounds, a ruptured liver, and broken ribs. The New York Times, citing Obama administration officials, later reported that Pakistan's powerful spy agency, the I.S.I., may have ordered Shahzad's killing for his reporting on the influence of militants in Pakistan's military--a claim Pakistan, which established a commission to investigate Shahzad's death, has vehemently denied. Today Dexter Filkins has advanced the story with a fascinating, in-depth report on the death in The New Yorker. Here are the bits that are generating considerable discussion on Twitter.
- Directive to Kill: Filkins notes that Shahzad angered Pakistani authorities by writing about al-Qaeda infiltrating the Pakistani Navy at a particularly sensitive time in Pakistan, as the country's leaders reeled from the humiliation of the Osama bin Laden raid. "The initial directive was not to kill him but to rough him up," Filkins reports, but, according to an American official, a senior Pakistani officer speaking for military chief Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani later ordered Shahzad killed (General Athar Abbas, the spokesman for the Pakistani Army, tells Filkins this allegation is "preposterous.")
- Foreign Spy? Pakistan's intelligence agency and military may have targeted Shahzad not only because of his incendiary articles but also because they suspected he was a foreign spy, Filkins adds. Shortly before his death, Shahzad had been in touch with several foreign intelligence officials as part of his reporting and had been recruited by British and Indian intelligence agencies. "There is no evidence that Shahzad was working for any foreign intelligence agency," Shahzad writes, "but mere suspicion on this front could have imperilled him."
- Kashmiri-Shahzad Link: Filkins hones in on the fact that a U.S. drone strike killed Ilyas Kashmiri, a top al-Qaeda leader and a subject and source in Shahzad's articles, in Pakistan's tribal region only four days after Shahzad's body was discovered. "Given the brief time that passed between Shahzad's death and Kashmiri's, a question inevitably arose: Did the Americans find Kashmiri on their own?" Filkins asks. "Or did they benefit from information obtained by the I.S.I. during its detention of Shahzad? If so, Shahzad's death would be not just a terrible example of Pakistani state brutality; it would be a terrible example of the collateral damage sustained in America's war on terror." Filkins adds that Shahzad's cell-phone records revealed more than 258 calls in one month to and from a single number that may have been Kashmiri's.
- Sourcing: Myra MacDonald at Reuters notes that while Filkins' story is "worth reading," it's "very reliant" on unnamed sources. "You can take any set of comments from unnamed officials talking about Pak and come up with wildly different conclusions," she tweets. The Wall Street Journal's Tom Wright has similar reservations. "It's pretty speculative," he adds. Shahzad "might have been a foreign spy. he might have had a hotline to kashmiri."