ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, July 5 (UPI) -- Pakistan's spy agency is believed to have ordered the killing of a Pakistani investigative journalist, U.S. officials said, citing classified intelligence.
The officials from the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama who spoke to The New York Times said the intelligence showed senior officials of Pakistan's Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence ordered the attack on Saleem Shahzad, 40, who died in May, to silence him as he had been writing about militants penetrating the Pakistani military and other exposes.
The officials said the intelligence, accepted by other administration officials as reliable and conclusive, was obtained prior to Shahzad's May 29 disappearance from Islamabad and after the finding of his body, the report said. One official told the Times it revealed the spy agency's actions were "barbaric and unacceptable."
The report said while the officials gave no other details, this disclosure alone could put more pressure on the already deeply strained U.S.-Pakistan relations. Bilateral ties have worsened since a U.S. Navy SEALs team killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden May 2 inside his compound in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad, not far from Islamabad, much to the embarrassment of Islamabad.
The Obama administration is planning to present the information on Shahzad to the Pakistani government.
"There is a lot of high-level concern about the murder; no one is too busy not to look at this," one of the officials told the Times.
Another senior U.S. official said there are enough other intelligence and indicators to conclude the Pakistani spy agency ordered Shahzad's killing.
"Every indication is that this was a deliberate, targeted killing that was most likely meant to send shock waves through Pakistan's journalist community and civil society," said the official.
A Pakistan intelligence agency spokesman declined comment as did a spokesman for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, the Times said.
Immediately after Shahzad's body was taken out of a canal outside Islamabad, the Pakistani spy agency had rejected as "totally unfounded" Pakistani media reports implicating the agency.
The Pakistani government has since set up a commission led by a Supreme Court justice to investigate Shahzad's death.