In the wake of reports that Saif al-Adel has succeeded Osama bin Laden as al-Qaeda's interim leader, analysts have been debating questions like whether al-Qaeda's Yemeni and Saudi members will recognize the leadership of an Egyptian like al-Adel, whether Iran, which kept al-Adel under house arrest until recently, will play a greater role in the terrorist network, and whether al-Adel has actually been al-Qaeda's operational leader for some time now. But an underreported storyline, highlighted by Asra Q. Nomani in Foreign Policy today, is the role al-Adel played in the death of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.
Pearl, you may recall, was kidnapped by local militants in Pakistan in 2002 when he was investigating the connection between al-Qaeda and the "shoe bomber" Richard Reid, and later beheaded by al-Qaeda. Back in January, Nomani and a team of researchers at Georgetown reported that it was al-Adel who set Pearl's murder in motion by ordering 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to take Pearl off the hands of the Pakistani militants. Al-Adel felt Pearl represented a propaganda opportunity for al-Qaeda--an opinion at odds with bin Laden's view (al-Adel also didn't support the 9/11 attacks because he feared U.S. retaliation would cripple the Taliban). "Al-Adel may have sought the killing of a Jewish-American journalist as a means to raise the profile of al-Qaeda, but Osama bin Laden 'was angry' that the gruesome slaying brought 'unnecessary attention to the network,'" a Bloomberg account of Nomani's study explained. At the time, Nomani's group couldn't confirm whether al-Adel had in fact ordered al-Qaeda to kill Pearl.
Then in April, when WikiLeaks released its Guantanamo documents, it seems the story took another turn: Al-Adel had actually advised against killing Pearl. According to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's file, al-Adel told Mohammed that "it would not be wise to murder Pearl" and recommended that Pearl "be returned back to one of the previous groups who held him, or freed." Mohammed, who confessed at Guantanamo to personally slitting Pearl's throat and decapitating him, ignored al-Adel, heeding the advice of al-Qaeda's finance chief instead. The story's twists and turns, Nomani writes at Foreign Policy, illustrate a larger problem facing the U.S. today: The "dangerous nexus between al Qaeda and the Pakistani militancy."