On 1 February 2002, Jewish-American journalist Daniel Pearl of The Wall Street Journal was decapitated by Al-Qaeda terrorists, nine days after being kidnapped by the group.
Four months after the 9/11 attacks, Pearl traveled to Karachi, Pakistan to investigate the connection between Al-Qaeda and Richard Reid, a British man (known as the "shoe bomber") who in December had tried to smuggle explosives onto an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami. Pearl arranged a meeting at a restaurant on 23 January 2002 with Sheikh Mubarak Ali Gilani as part of his research into Islamist militants but was subsequently kidnapped by one such group calling itself the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty.
Five days later, journalists would receive an email with photos of Pearl with a gun to his head and holding up a newspaper. The terrorist group demanded the release of Pakistani terrorists held at the Guantanamo prison camp and the release of a halted U.S. shipment of F-16 fighter jets to the Pakistani government in exchange for Pearl.
Weeks later, on 21 February 2002, the terrorists released a video entitled “The Slaughter of the Spy-Journalist, the Jew Daniel Pearl,” in which Pearl addresses the camera mere moments before his decapitation. “My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish,” declares Pearl, adding, “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.”
Pearl’s remains would be found nearly three months later.
The Pearl Project, which was subsequently founded by Daniel Pearl’s parents to promote cross-cultural understanding through journalism, music, and dialogue, carried out a three-year investigation into Pearl's kidnapping and death, concluding that Pearl was beheaded by Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, who was arrested in Pakistan in 2003 and later described as the architect of the 9/11 attacks. Omar Sheikh would be found guilty of Pearl’s abduction and murder and sentenced to death, but his conviction was overturned by a Pakistani court in the summer of 2020.
That decision would be upheld by the Pakistani Supreme Court, despite objections by the Pakistani government and the United States. Sheikh will serve the rest of the appeals process in a jail in Lahore.
In 2010, the International Press Institute posthumously named Pearl one of its World Press Freedom Heroes. On 19 May 2010, United States President Barack Obama signed the Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act, which requires the United States Department of State to expand its scrutiny of news media during its annual report on human rights in each country.