Islamabad, Pakistan — An Islamic militant's public confession that he was involved in the kidnapping of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl may not be enough to convict him, the chief prosecutor said Wednesday.
Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh told a court in Karachi on Feb. 14 that he was involved in the Jan. 23 abduction and that he believed Pearl was dead.
The hearing was held only to formally open the court proceedings against Saeed and remand him to police custody. Saeed, however, unexpectedly made his confession without having been sworn to the truth and without a court stenographer being present.
Therefore, said chief prosecutor Raja Quereshi, investigators need more evidence to convict the British-born militant because the confession has no "legal sanctity."
"It has no legal basis because the statement was not made under oath in front of a magistrate nor was it recorded as per court procedure," Quereshi said.
At the initial hearing, Saeed was remanded to custody for an additional two weeks. His trial is expected to start in early March, Quereshi said.
Quereshi said Saeed's confession may have been aimed at misleading investigators and sending a coded message to his accomplices. He did not elaborate.
Police and government officials insist there is no evidence to support Saeed's claim that Pearl is dead and that they assume he is alive.
Pearl, the South Asia correspondent for the Journal, disappeared on his way to a meeting with Muslim fundamentalist contacts for a story on links between Pakistan and Richard C. Reid, the so-called "shoe-bomber" arrested in December on a Paris to Miami flight.
In late January, news organizations received an e-mail with pictures of Pearl in captivity. The e-mail demanded that Pakistanis held at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, be returned here for trial.
Steven Goldstein, a vice president of Dow Jones & Co., the owner of the Wall Street Journal, said the company is hopeful that Pearl will be freed soon.
"The president of Pakistan has indicated that he is doing all he can to secure Danny's release and our focus is in bringing Danny back to his family. We remain hopeful and are confident that Danny is alive," he told The Associated Press.
On Wednesday, a spokesman of the Sindh provincial government said police are working on "important leads" involving people believed to have information about Pearl's whereabouts.
The statement did not elaborate. Police are believed searching for two suspects Â Amjad Faruqi and Mohammed Hashim Qadeer Â who had been in contact with Pearl.