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Archive for Friday, March 22, 2002

Pakistani prosecutor charges suspects in murder of Wall Street journalist

March 22, 2002

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— The alleged mastermind of the kidnapping of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl and 10 accomplices were charged in his death Friday in a special anti-terrorism court.

Chief prosecutor Raja Quereshi presented the charges amid unprecedented security, with at least 100 armed police ringing the courthouse. In addition to the charges, Raja submitted a list of 31 prosecution witnesses to a judge whose courtroom was closed to the public and press.

Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and three other Islamic militants are accused in the indictment of murder, kidnapping and terrorism in Pearl's death. Seven others, who remain at large, also were accused in the prosecutor's indictment on the same charges.

The court was scheduled to convene again March 29, at which time a judge will decide whether there's enough evidence to accept the charges. Once that step is taken, the trial would begin immediately.

Saeed and codefendant Sheikh Mohammed Adeel were brought to court in an armored car that was escorted by two dozen police vans mounted with machine guns. The other two suspects in custody, Fahad Naseem and Salman Saqib, were not present since they had already appeared before a judge and were remanded to jail.

Saeed, a British-educated Islamic militant, is the key suspect in the Jan. 23 kidnapping in the southern port city of Karachi.

He confessed in court last month that he abducted Pearl, but has since withdrawn the statement, which was not made under oath and is considered inadmissible. Saeed has said he wants to act as his own attorney.

The case against Saeed relies heavily on the testimony of taxi driver Nasir Abbas, who told police he drove Pearl to a restaurant and saw him shake hands with Saeed before getting into a car with him.

Other evidence also includes e-mails that showed photographs of Pearl in chains that were traced to three of the defendants and a videotape received by the U.S. Consulate in Karachi in February that proved Pearl had been murdered.

"We have circumstantial evidence and also the videotape of Daniel Pearl's murder," Quereshi told reporters after presenting the charges. "We will present that too, as evidence."

Two of the suspects, Naseem and Saqib, also have submitted confessions implicating Saeed in the plot. Their lawyer on Thursday said he would move to have the confessions blocked.

The men could face a death sentence if convicted in a Pakistani anti-terrorism court.

The United States also intends to prosecute Saeed, but Pakistan has insisted on going ahead with proceedings here first.

A U.S. federal grand jury in New Jersey indicted Saeed in Pearl's death on March 14. Since the kidnapping resulted in the reporter's murder, Saeed could face the death penalty if brought to the United States and convicted.

The indictment alleges that Saeed trained at Afghan military camps and also fought with Taliban and al-Qaida fighters last September and October as the war in Afghanistan was beginning.

Pearl, the newspaper's South Asia bureau chief, was kidnapped when examining links between Pakistani extremists and so-called shoe bomber Richard C. Reid, who was arrested in December on a Paris-Miami flight he allegedly boarded with explosives in his sneakers.

After American and Pakistani authorities revealed the contents of the videotape on Feb. 22, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf vowed to fight terrorists with an "iron hand" and called U.S. President George W. Bush to reiterate his nation's resolve to help fight the war on terror.

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