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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Unreliable kidnapping suspect claims Pearl dead

KARACHI (REUTERS)–The chief suspect in the kidnapping of Daniel Pearl told a Pakistani court Thursday he thought the U.S. reporter was dead.

The Pakistani government dismissed the statement made by British-born Islamic militant Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh as untrustworthy, while Pearl’s employer, The Wall Street Journal, said it remained confident he was alive.

Investigators said they had evidence which made them believe Pearl was still alive.

Pearl’s abduction has been an embarrassment to Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf during a visit to Washington this week, but police say they are steadily closing in on the kidnappers after making four arrests in the past nine days.

Pearl’s wife Mariane, who is six months pregnant with their first child, urged his captors to let him go or give some word on his condition.

“I want to appeal again to you to please release him or at least let me know how he is doing,” she said in a statement released in New York by The Wall Street Journal. “As I do not have any news about Danny’s health and wellbeing, this has been a very difficult time for me.”

Prime suspect Sheikh Omar, as he is commonly known, appeared in an anti-terrorism court in the southern city of Karachi and calmly confessed to the abduction of Pearl three weeks ago, in an apparent protest of the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

“As far as I understand, he is dead,” the bespectacled and clean-shaven Sheikh Omar told the court.

In response to a question from the judge, Sheikh Omar said: “Yes, I kidnapped him.”

But investigators said Omar’s statement could have been a publicity stunt, pointing out he had told them Pearl was alive after his arrest Tuesday.

“This gentleman has been making several statements and changing those statements,” Pakistan foreign ministry spokesman Aziz Ahmed Khan told a news briefing in Islamabad. “We cannot give any credence to any of these statements that he gives.”

Confident Pearl alive

Pearl, 38, disappeared after he tried to contact the leader of a little-known radical Islamic group. He was working on a story about possible links between alleged shoe bomber Briton Richard Reid and Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network.

“We continue to remain confident that Danny is still alive,” said a WSJ spokeswoman in London.

Musharraf, who said Wednesday he was reasonably sure Pearl was alive, sounded less confident Thursday when asked about Pearl’s fate by reporters in Washington.

“I can’t comment with any degree of surety,” he said. “I hope and pray he is alive.”

Sindh provincial police chief Syed Kamil Shah said he believed roughly half the kidnap gang had been arrested and that Omar was its ringleader. But he said Omar had given no evidence to support his claim that Pearl was dead and had told police he had no idea where the body was or who had killed him.

A senior investigator added, “There are some things we can’t tell you that make us believe he’s alive.”

Police arrested three other men in Karachi Feb. 5 and accused them of sending two e-mail messages after Pearl’s disappearance, showing photographs of him in chains and with a gun to his head.

The three have accused Omar of supplying the photographs and financing the kidnapping, police say.

Own reasons

Omar was brought to the court in an armored vehicle amid tight security, his face covered with a shawl. Removing the covering, he told the court, “I don’t want to defend this case.”

Dressed in a traditional Pakistani long shirt and baggy trousers, he said he had his own reasons for kidnapping Pearl: “Our country should not be catering to the needs of America.”

Judge Arshad Noor remanded him in custody until Feb. 25.

Investigators say Omar gave himself up Tuesday in Lahore. But Omar, speaking confidently in flawless English, told the court he had been in custody for more than a week.

“I gave myself in to save my family and friends,” he said. “I have been with the police since Feb. 5.”

Police detained several of Omar’s relatives last week, but they were all released Monday, one of Omar’s aunts said.

The son of a clothes merchant from Wanstead in east London, Omar has a long history of involvement in Islamic militancy in Pakistan and is believed to be a member of the banned Jaish-e-Mohammad (Army of Mohammad), which is fighting Indian rule in the mainly Muslim region of Kashmir.

He was jailed in India in 1994 for allegedly kidnapping four tourists–three Britons and an American–before being freed as part of a deal to rescue 155 hostages on an Indian airliner hijacked in 1999 to the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.

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