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Archive for Thursday, March 14, 2002

U.S. charges Muslim extremist in death of Wall Street Journal reporter

March 14, 2002

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— A federal grand jury in New Jersey on Thursday indicted a key suspect in the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

Islamic militant Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh was charged with hostage-taking and conspiracy to commit hostage-taking, resulting in the death of Pearl.

Saeed is being detained in Pakistan, where authorities are also interested in prosecuting him for Pearl's death. U.S. and Pakistani authorities have been discussing extradition, but no agreement has been reached.

The indictment, brought by a federal grand jury in Trenton, N.J., alleges that Saeed trained in military camps in Afghanistan in or about September or October 2001 and fought with Taliban and al-Qaida forces.

It said Saaed caused e-mail messages to be sent from Chaudrey Bashir, Pakistan, to Pearl at his Wall Street Journal e-mail address from Jan. 19 to Jan. 23, which set up the reporter's kidnapping.

Saeed and others "did knowingly and willfully seize, detain and threaten to kill, injure and continue to detain Daniel Pearl, a United States national, in order to compel the United States government to do and abstain from doing certain acts," the indictment charged.

The government also unsealed an earlier indictment against Saeed charging him with conspiracy to commit hostage-taking, hostage-taking and aiding and abetting in connection with a 1994 kidnapping of Bela Nuss.

Officials said the Muslim militant was charged with offenses less than murder because the FBI is still developing more evidence.

The officials said the case was being handled in New Jersey because prosecutors determined there was "substantial nexus" between Pearl and the federal court jurisdiction where the headquarters for Pearl's employer, Dow Jones & Co., is located.

A decision to press forward with a U.S. criminal indictment caps weeks of deliberations within the Justice Department and State Department about how to proceed, even as Saeed faces criminal proceedings in Pakistan.

U.S. officials, eager to move the case ahead, have been in discussions with Pakistani officials about prospects for sending Saeed and possibly others to the United States. The two nations have no formal extradition agreement, but Pakistan previously has sent suspects to the United States under a procedure known as "rendering."

Pearl's newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, has been operating out of a makeshift headquarters in New Jersey since its New York offices were heavily damaged by the destruction of the World Trade Center.

Among jurisdictions that had been under consideration were New York, northern Virginia and Washington, where Saeed was secretly indicted in November in the 1994 kidnapping of another American, Bela Nuss.

In Pakistan, the investigation into Pearl's slaying continues. Police are questioning a man who claims he murdered Pearl, officials said Thursday.

The man, identified only as Adnan, turned himself in to the newspaper Khabrain in the eastern city of Lahore on Thursday. The newspaper handed him over to police, chief editor Zia Shahid told the AP by telephone.

"We are trying to verify his credibility," Lahore police chief Aftab Ahmad Cheema said. "He is being held for the time being. But nothing is certain so far."

According to Shahid, the man claimed he killed Pearl with an ax on a boat off Karachi, where the journalist was abducted Jan. 23. A videotape received last month by the U.S. Consulate in Karachi confirmed Pearl was dead but his body has not been found.

Four suspects have been arrested, including Saeed, the alleged mastermind, and others remain at large.

Shahid, the Pakistani editor, quoted Adnan as saying he killed Pearl "to teach Jews and America a lesson" and threw parts of the body into the sea.

Shahid said Adnan claimed to be a member of the radical Islamic group Jaish-e-Mohammed, or Army of Mohammed, which police suspect may have been involved in the killing.

Pearl was kidnapped while investigating alleged links between Pakistani extremists and Richard C. Reid, who was arrested in December on a flight from Paris to Miami with explosives in his shoe.

The British-born Saeed was arrested in Pearl's killing before the videotape confirming the journalist's death was received. At his first hearing, he admitted to his role in the kidnapping but later recanted. The statement is inadmissible because it was not made under oath.

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