Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

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Security Tight for Pearl Kidnapper’s Court Date

KARACHI (REUTERS)–The confessed mastermind behind the kidnapping of American reporter Daniel Pearl was to appear Monday in a Karachi anti-terrorism court where he may fill in details of a crime that shocked the world by its barbarity.

Hours before the appearance of British-born Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who has already spent time in an Indian jail for a 1994 kidnapping, troops were already in place around the court in central Karachi, where Pearl’s kidnapping occurred.

Legal authorities, who have kept a tight lid on the hearing before a single judge, said it was possible the 28-year-old Islamic radical known as Sheikh Omar would confess in full to his part in a crime which ended with Pearl’s throat being slit on camera while Sheikh Omar was in police custody.

A nationwide manhunt extending from the teeming streets of Pakistan’s largest city Karachi to the country’s border with Afghanistan was underway for at least four members of Sheikh Omar’s group suspected of carrying out the brutal murder itself.

The fugitives included an Arab man with possible links to Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network, blamed for the Sept. 11 hijacked-airliner attacks on the United States.

SECRET INDICTMENT

In shocking revelations on the eve of his appearance, Newsweek magazine said Sheikh Omar was also secretly indicted in the United States last November for the 1994 kidnapping in India of four Western tourists, including an American.

Quoting a Bush administration official, Newsweek said U.S. officials had been attempting to have Sheikh Omar arrested and extradited from Pakistan just before Pearl was abducted Jan. 23 in Karachi.

A Pakistan government spokesman said he did not know of any extradition request for Sheikh Omar.

Pearl, the Bombay-based South Asia bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal, had been trying to contact Islamic radical groups and investigate possible links between alleged shoe bomber Richard Reid and the al Qaeda network.

Sheikh Omar was arrested Feb. 12 in Karachi and confessed during police interrogation to planning the kidnapping to protest against a Pakistan government crackdown on Islamic militant groups who were threatening to disrupt U.S. forces based in the country for the war in Afghanistan.

He said the kidnapping was also to protest against U.S. treatment of Taliban and al Qaeda prisoners from the Afghan war.

His group called itself the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty and accused Pearl of being a spy–first for the CIA, then for Israeli intelligence.

However, for his confession to have legal weight in a trial, Sheikh Omar must make it before a judge. His detention under anti-terrorism laws also must be extended, and there is speculation that formal charges of murder and kidnapping may even be presented at the hearing.

Sheikh Omar had a privileged upbringing in England, attending the prestigious London School of Economics (LSE) before his transformation into a radical Islamic militant.

PEARL LURED INTO TRAP

Sheikh Omar came to prominence in 1994 when Indian police arrested him and accused him of involvement in the kidnapping of three Britons and an American tourist in India.

He was freed in exchange for passengers of a plane hijacked to the southern Afghan city of Kandahar just two weeks before his case was due to be heard.

The Britons–Paul Rideout, Myles Croston and Rhys Partridge–said they had been befriended and then lured to a remote Indian village by a man they knew as Rohit Sharma and who said he was a student at the LSE.

The tourists were freed after 10 days of captivity in a shootout in which a kidnapper and two policemen were killed.

Indian police, with the help of the British tourists, later identified Rohit Sharma as Sheikh Omar, who by then had been captured himself after a fight with an Indian policeman on the outskirts of New Delhi.

Pearl’s kidnapping has some of the same hallmarks. Investigators say the Wall Street Journal reporter was also lured into a trap.

The son of a wholesale clothes merchant from Wanstead in east London, Omar attended the eminent, fee-paying Forest School in north London, where teachers described him as an “all-round and supportive” pupil who became a house prefect.

“He was in the premier league of students; there was absolutely nothing there, no sign whatsoever of this [militancy],” said Omar’s economics teacher, George Paynter.

During interrogation following his 1994 capture, Omar told police he had been disturbed by ethnic strife in the Balkans and went to Croatia in 1993 with a relief organization called the “The Convoy of Mercy.”

There he met Islamic activists and soon after went to Pakistan, linking up with a militant group and receiving training at a guerrilla camp in neighboring Afghanistan.

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