A Personal Quest To "Finish Danny's Story"

When Daniel "Danny" Pearl, the intrepid South Asia Bureau Chief for the Wall Street Journal, was beheaded in 2002 near Karachi, Pakistan, his death became a gruseome benchmark. Coming on the heels of 9-11, Pearl's murder not only marked a dramatic shift in Pakistan’s internal demise into radicalization, but it also signaled the beginning of a dangerous new era for journalists.  

For Asra Q. Nomani, a journalist who was reporting from Pakistan at the same time as Pearl, Danny is a best friend, forever gone. Parties, salsa lessons, dive bars, volleyball on Sundays—all memories now. In an intensely personal account, Nomani writes in the current issue of the Washingtonian, about her long quest to reckon with the truth of what happened, a journey took her thru uncharted emotional terrain, and to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the man who claims to have killed him, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, is detained.

Nomani and Pearl were both born to immigrant parents, his from Israel, hers Muslims from Mumbai. When they met, Nomani was emerging from “a disastrous three-month marriage to a Pakistani Muslim.” Her therapists advice to her at the time, “Have fun.”

Nomani writes: “Danny and I and our then-colleague Jill Abramson, now executive editor of the New York Times, decorated our cubicles in the Blake Building on Connecticut Avenue with McDonald’s Happy Meal toys and hung out with friends at the Big Hunt bar, where he converted me from Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers to wheat beer.”

On January 23, 2002, Nomani and Pearl's wife, had said goodbye to Pearl, and the three were in the process of making plans for dinner later that evening. Pearl headed off to meet a contact in Karachi.

Pearl was kidnapped and nine days later, beheaded, reportedly at the hands of Mohammed, who is also accused of being one of the principle architects of September 11. When word of Pearl’s murder reached her, Nomani recalls, “There wasn’t time to be angry... because there was too much to do.”

In 2007, she set out on an mission to find out the truth about what actually happened to her friend, as she writes, “to finish Danny’s last story.” Her pursuit eventually led her to her to Guantanamo Bay, where Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is being detained. And it led her to find relief. "I could finally feel sad that Danny would never come back.” 

Read Asra Q. Nomani’s account of finding the truth behind Daniel Pearl’s death at the Washingtonian.