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Journalist found dead after reporting links between Pakistani officials and militants

A prominent Pakistani journalist considered to be an expert on Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants was found dead on 31 May about 150km outside the capital, Islamabad, where he had been abducted two days earlier, report the Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Freedom House and other IFEX members.

Syed Saleem Shahzad, 40, was the Pakistan bureau chief of the "Asia Times" online website and South Asia correspondent for the Italian news agency Adnkronos International (AKI). On 29 May, he was on his way to participate in a talk show on Dunya Television to discuss his investigative work, describing links between Al-Qaeda and Pakistani naval officials. But Shahzad never arrived at the TV station. Two days later his body was pulled from a canal, and showed signs of torture.

He recently reported in an "Asia Times" article published on 27 May that members of Al-Qaeda had carried out a 22 May attack on a naval air station in Karachi, in retribution for the arrest of several naval officers with ties to the militant group. It was the first of a two-part series. He was also the author of the recent book "Inside al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11".

Shahzad had told Human Rights Watch that he was afraid of being killed by the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and had reported receiving threats from ISI members. There are concerns that the ISI may have been involved in his disappearance, IFEX members report.

"Shahzad was an experienced journalist who covered very sensitive subjects and it is highly likely that his reporting upset people within the government or armed forces," said Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

In a joint action sponsored by CPJ, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), 34 IFEX members urged the Government of Pakistan and its law-enforcement and security agencies to protect media personnel and to prosecute murderers of journalists in Pakistan.

In recent years, journalists have been murdered in North Waziristan, Wana, Quetta, Punjab and Swat, but authorities have failed to conduct proper investigations; only in the internationally high-profile case of U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl have culprits been identified and prosecuted. The joint action supports the PFUJ in its recent request to Minister for Interior Rehman Malik to initiate and oversee a comprehensive inquiry and report into the killings of journalists in all of Pakistan's provinces.

"Previous enquiries into the murders of journalists have not been made public and it is not clear if the fate of the enquiry into Shahzad's death would be any different," said PPF.

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