Pakistan police in Pearl case search for accomplice suspected in hijacking of Indian plane

Saturday, February 16th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) _ Delving deeper into Pakistan's murky Islamic underworld, police searched Saturday for a man suspected of having helped spring reporter Daniel Pearl's self-confessed kidnapper from an Indian jail two years ago.

Overnight, police got ``very close'' to arresting the suspect _ identified as Mansour Hussain _ but he fled, said an investigator who spoke on condition of anonymity. Police are holding his wife and child in an attempt to flush him out, the investigator said.

Several other people were detained in the Karachi area overnight and are being detained for questioning, he added.

Authorities believe Hussain _ who uses several aliases _ helped Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh kidnap the 38-year-old reporter. Saeed, a British-born Islamic militant, confessed to the kidnapping in a chilling court appearance on Thursday.

Saeed said he believed Pearl is dead _ a claim Pakistani authorities reject.

Saeed and two other Islamic militants were exchanged by India in December 1999 for passengers aboard an Indian Airlines jets that was hijacked to Afghanistan. Hussain is believed to have been one of the hijackers.

Pearl, the Wall Street Journal's South Asia bureau chief, was going to meet Islamic militant contacts when he was abducted Jan. 23 in Karachi. He was researching a story on links between Pakistani militants and Richard C. Reid, the so-called ``shoe bomber'' arrested for allegedly trying to detonate explosives in his sneakers during a Paris-to-Miami flight in December.

Aliases that Hussain is believed to use include Haider Ali Faruqi and Imtiaz Siddiqi. Jamil Yousuf, a Karachi crime investigator who was the last person to talk to Pearl before he left to meet his contacts, said the reporter received two mobile telephone calls from a man named Siddiqi while he and Pearl were conferring in his office. Yousuf said he overheard Pearl tell the caller he would meet him ``shortly'' at the nearby Village Restaurant.

Saeed has referred to Hussain as Haider Ali Faruqi and has identified him as his accomplice _ the person who actually abducted Pearl.

One police source said Saeed claimed he told his accomplice not to let him know where Pearl was being held ``because he said he didn't want to have that information in case he was arrested and tortured.''

Militants here have come under increased pressure since the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States, as the government has sought to shed Pakistan's image as a hotbed of extremism. Following a Dec. 13 attack on India's parliament, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf banned five extremist groups last month. But militancy is deeply rooted: Some extremists have links to Pakistan's powerful intelligence service.

In Washington this week to meet President Bush, Musharraf suggested Pearl may have been abducted in retaliation for his crackdown on militants. ``I expected a certain degree of fallout,'' Musharraf said.

In court Thursday, Saeed said: ``As far as I understand, he is dead.'' A Pakistani newspaper, quoting an unidentified ``senior official,'' said Saeed learned of Pearl's death during a Feb. 5 telephone call to an accomplice who was holding the journalist.

In a report Friday, The News said Saeed telephoned his accomplice and told him, ``Shift the patient to the doctor'' _ a coded message ordering Pearl's release. But the accomplice replied: ``Dad has expired,'' The News reported.

The Wall Street Journal says it believes Pearl is alive. Karachi Police Chief Kamal Shah said there was no evidence to support Saeed's claim and other officials insist that Saeed has changed his story repeatedly.

On Friday, Pakistan Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider predicted a ``major breakthrough'' and more arrests within 48 hours.

Police also were searching for another militant, identified as Mohammed Hashim Qadeer, believed to have played a part in the kidnapping.

Police have tracked down the family of Qadeer, who identified himself to Pearl as Arif, in a village in Punjab province. The relatives claimed Qadeer died in Afghanistan, but police remain skeptical.

Saeed was jailed by India in 1994 for kidnapping four foreigners. Saeed and his cohorts demanded the release of Islamic militants fighting Indian rule in disputed Kashmir. He was shot and wounded by police, who rescued the hostages. Saeed was never brought to trial but was jailed in India until the 1999 hijacking.