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Pakistani diplomat says suspect in Pearl's killing could be handed over to U.S.

(ISLAMABAD, Pakistan) - Pakistan does not object to handing the chief suspect in the abduction and killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl to the United States, but certain legal issues must be resolved first, a high-ranking Pakistani diplomat said on Wednesday.

``We have no objections'' to confessed kidnapper Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh being handed over, the diplomat told The Associated Press, on condition of anonymity.

The diplomat said Pakistan is considering whether to first try Saeed here before handing him over. He said Saeed could be transferred to American custody by classifying him as a combatant fighting against the U.S. war on terrorism, thus allowing the two countries to bypass the issue of extradition. The United States and Pakistan have no clear extradition treaty.

Pakistani Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider vowed Wednesday to bring Pearl's killers to justice, and said allegations about a link between Saeed and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency were ``malicious and wrong propaganda.''

``We reject these reports completely. There is no question of any linkage,'' Haider told The Associated Press on the sidelines of a conference on people smuggling in Bali, Indonesia.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has pledged to rid his country of Islamic extremism, but there are still concerns about a decades-old alliance between Islamic militants and Pakistani intelligence - forged through years of fighting common enemies in Afghanistan and in the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir.

U.S. Ambassador Wendy Chamberlin said no decision has been made about whether Pakistan would deliver Saeed, the alleged mastermind of Pearl's Jan. 23 abduction. The ambassador said after meeting with Musharraf on Tuesday that she was ``not disappointed'' with his response to America's extradition request.

Chamberlin told AP she had spoken several times with Musharraf in recent months about the British-born Saeed. Her spokesman, Mark Wentworth, said Chamberlin thanked the president for Pakistan's cooperation in the Pearl inquiry and ``encouraged further movement in the case.''

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said it was made clear to Musharraf that Washington wants Saeed sent to the United States, but he acknowledged Pakistan's rights in the case.

``A crime, a murder was committed in their country, and they have their own ways and laws of dealing with it. It's not atypical at a time like that, when another nation makes a request, for that request to be considered, and it takes time,'' Fleischer said.

Saeed has already been indicted in the United States in a previous kidnapping, but handing him over could open Musharraf up to nationalist criticism if he surrenders him for trial in a foreign country.

A Pakistani Interior Ministry official said Tuesday that Pakistan wants to hold on to Saeed for now - hoping he can help locate Pearl's body and identify his killers. Thus far, Saeed has not been known to provide any help.

A videotape delivered Friday to U.S. authorities in Pakistan showed the 38-year-old journalist being forced to say he was Jewish, followed by graphic images of Pearl's unmoving body being decapitated. Pakistani officials are still searching for at least four key suspects.

Saeed, 28, had been in custody for more than two weeks when the video was made public. U.S. officials say they had requested Saeed's extradition two months before he was implicated in Pearl's slaying.

Security was stepped up Wednesday outside the crime investigation department in Karachi, where Saeed and two other suspected are being interrogated. Authorities rolled in an armored personal carrier and deployed 50 policemen in bulletproof vests.

An anonymous caller on Tuesday threatened to blow the building up if Saeed or the other suspects are extradited to the United States, a police official said.

A U.S. federal grand jury has secretly indicted Saeed in the 1994 kidnapping of four Westerners in India, including one American. The suspect spent five years in an Indian jail for that crime, but was freed in a hostage-prisoner swap after Muslim militants hijacked an Indian airplane.

A Pakistani judge on Monday gave prosecutors two more weeks to build their case against Saeed and two alleged accomplices. Saeed confessed to the kidnapping in a Feb. 14 court hearing, but court officials say that would not be enough to convict because the statement was not made under oath.

Saeed is one of a dozen suspects in the Pearl case. The main target of a police manhunt is now Amjad Faruqi, who police believe carried out Pearl's kidnapping.

Pearl had been investigating alleged links between militants and Richard C. Reid, who was arrested for allegedly trying to detonate explosives in his sneakers during a Paris-Miami flight.

On Tuesday, Pearl's widow, Mariane, appealed to Pakistan's government and its people to find those responsible and said the world must unite to fight terrorism.

``I really ... want to say to the people of Pakistan and to the law enforcement people to go on and find the people that killed Danny,'' she said.
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