Archive for Saturday, May 4, 2002

Musharraf says reporter’s killers must be punished in Pakistan

President defends U.S. force’s presence

May 4, 2002


— Pakistan's president said Saturday that the killers of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl must face punishment in Pakistan despite a U.S. extradition request as an example for those defying his crackdown on terrorism and sectarian violence.

Gen. Pervez Musharraf also justified his decision - criticized by hardline Islamic groups - to permit what he described as a U.S. force of "hardly a dozen" to operate with Pakistani troops hunting for supporters of Osama bin Laden inside Pakistan.

"We lack one thing - information," he told a group of foreign journalists Saturday. "The United States troops can provide better information."

Musharraf, Pakistan's top general, seized power in a coup in 1999. The Supreme Court gave him three years to introduce reforms, root out corruption and return the country to democracy - a deadline that expires in October.

A referendum Tuesday overwhelmingly extended his rule for another five years, but critics charged massive fraud, an accusation Musharraf again denied Saturday. Acknowledging "some problem areas," he said the results nonetheless showed a majority of Pakistanis backing his bid to stay in office.

Musharraf said he would resist any U.S pressure for the extradition of British-born Islamic militant Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the chief defendant in the trial of those accused of killing Pearl.

The Wall Street Journal reporter disappeared in Karachi in January while researching links between Pakistan's militants and Richard C. Reid, the man arrested in December on a Paris-Miami flight with explosives in his shoes.

Saeed and three other defendants now on trial have pleaded innocent to charges of murder, kidnapping and terrorism. They face the death penalty if convicted.

Musharraf said Saeed would be tried and sentenced at home.

"He's done a terrible act in Pakistan," the president said. "He must be in Pakistan. I want the people of Pakistan to know that we will move against terrorism."

Musharraf banned five extremist groups in January. But two months later, grenade-hurling terrorists killed five worshippers in an Islamabad church attended by foreigners.

Musharraf last week confirmed that a small U.S. force was operating with his troops in the hunt for al-Qaida fugitives in the rugged area on the Afghan border. On Saturday, he said the "hardly a dozen" U.S. personnel were communications specialists.

"We don't want military action in Pakistan by anyone but Pakistani forces," he said.

Musharraf said it was impossible for Pakistani troops to completely seal the border to Afghanistan. He said he believed al-Qaida infiltrators "in groups of four or eight or 10" had crossed into his country.

Asked about the whereabouts of bin Laden, he said he believed he was "most probably in Afghanistan, either dead or alive."

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