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Archive for Monday, May 6, 2002

Trial in Pearl slaying adjourned despite Supreme Court ruling clearing way for more testimony

May 6, 2002

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— Pakistan's Supreme Court said Monday that the trial of Muslim militants charged in the kidnap-slaying of Daniel Pearl can proceed until it rules on a defense request to move it back to its original venue in Karachi, where the Wall Street Journal reporter was abducted.

But an hour later, the trial judge adjourned the case until Wednesday because the lawyer for three of the four defendants, Rai Bashir, could not make it from Islamabad, the capital, after arguing before the Supreme Court there, another defense lawyer said.

Judge Ali Ashraf Shah noted that it was Bashir's second absence and appointed backup lawyers to prevent further delays, lawyers said amid extremely tight security outside the Hyderabad Central Jail, where the trial is being held behind closed doors.

Chief prosecutor Raja Quereshi accused the defense of using delaying tactics. "The court has appointed state lawyers, so we hope that no further adjournment will take place," he told reporters after the half-hour session.

The Supreme Court ruled that prosecutors could continue to call witnesses in Hyderabad until Thursday, when it would hear arguments on a defense petition to move the trial back to Karachi.

K.M. Samdani, a lawyer for the chief defendant, British-born Islamic militant Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, had asked for an adjournment, arguing testimony should not proceed while the venue and judge were in dispute.

But deputy advocate-general Sindh Salman Habib told the court that two "important witnesses" had already left the United States for Pakistan to testify and that it would be hard for them to prolong their stay if the trial were adjourned. He did not identify them.

Quereshi has said two FBI agents who traced e-mails sent to news organizations by Pearl's kidnappers are on his witness list. He would not say Monday when they would testify.

The Sindh provincial court moved the trial from Karachi to Hyderabad at the request of prosecutors who cited security concerns. The defense argues that the 75-mile commute from Karachi to Hyderabad is difficult and dangerous.

The provincial court also replaced the judge, Abdul Ghafoor Memon, whom Quereshi accused of failing to keep the defendants from threatening prosecutors.

The trial of Saeed and three others accused in the Jan. 23 kidnapping and subsequent slaying of Pearl began April 22. Witnesses have identified Saeed as a man who made contacts with Pearl before he disappeared.

All four defendants have pleaded innocent to charges of murder, kidnapping and terrorism. They face the death penalty if convicted.

Pearl disappeared in Karachi in January while researching links between Pakistani militants and Richard C. Reid, the man arrested in December on a Paris-Miami flight with explosives in his shoes.

A previously unknown group called the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty sent e-mails in January revealing it had kidnapped Pearl. A videotape received Feb. 21 by U.S. diplomats in Karachi confirmed Pearl, 38, was dead. His body has not been found.

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