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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Project Pearl: The Bravest Class in Town

Jessica Rettig, a 20-year-old journalism student wearing a bright blue cotton sundress and flip-flops, is sitting in her professor's office at Georgetown University, dialing a number in Pakistan. She's hoping to interview a man with possible ties to terrorists.

The man answers the phone and says he'd be glad to talk, but asks: Could they do it by e-mail instead? Rettig takes down his e-mail address, hangs up the phone, and sends him a quick note. Almost immediately it bounces back: address unknown. The e-mail is a fake.

It's a hard lesson — one of many — in what might be the toughest class in town.

Rettig and 20 other students are trying to track down the killers of Danny Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped and beheaded by Islamic radicals in Pakistan in early 2002, a few months after the 9/11 attacks. The murder — which was the subject of the 2007 movie A Mighty Heart, starring Angelina Jolie — shocked the world and marked a new era of peril for reporters. The images of Pearl, a handsome, 38-year-old father-to-be, with a gun pointed at his head set the precedent for the sort of brazen kidnappings that have since become common in Iraq.


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