Pakistan charges three in kidnapping of reporter, but spokesman dampens hopes of early release

Saturday, February 9th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) _ Three men charged in the kidnapping of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl will appear in court next week, but there was no word Saturday of Pearl's whereabouts and a government spokesman criticized police for claiming he may be found soon.

Maj. Gen. Rashid Quereshi, chief spokesman for President Pervez Musharraf, said the search for Pearl continues ``day and night, they are not resting at all.'' But he also backed away from police claims that Pearl's release could be just days away.

``We heard a couple of days back, you know, that we'll recover him in a day or two,'' Quereshi told The Associated Press. He said police have made such statements, which ``I think is an incorrect thing to do. One should not make statements like this until one is absolutely sure.''

``People that I spoke to, they were hopeful. But they can't put a date to when they expect to recover him or catch the culprits,'' he said. ``Commenting on his (Pearl's) status and things like that jeopardizes the whole investigation and maybe his own security.''

The kidnapping is an embarrassment to Musharraf's government ahead of the Pakistani leader's visit to Washington next week.

Pearl, 38, the Journal's South Asian bureau chief, was abducted Jan. 23 en route to a meeting in Karachi with Muslim extremist contacts. He was believed to be investigating links between Pakistani militants and Richard C. Reid, a Briton arrested on a Paris-to-Miami flight in December with explosives in his shoes.

Police say the chief suspect in Pearl's abduction is a British-born Islamic militant, Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh, who remains at large. Saeed's father has come to Pakistan from London, apparently to help police find his son, an investigator, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Saturday.

The three suspects who will appear in court Monday were arrested last weekend after e-mails claiming responsibility for Pearl's kidnapping were traced to them, police Inspector Kamal Shah said. One of the suspects said he got the e-mails, which contained photos of Pearl in captivity, from Saeed, a police official said. Two of them also said they had met Saeed in Afghanistan, an official said.

The three men charged were identified as Farhad Naseem, Sheikh Mohammed Adeel, a constable with the police department's special branch, and Salman Saqib. Saqib and Adeel are believed linked to Jaish-e-Mohammed, or Army of Mohammed, an Islamic extremist group with close ties Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terror network.

Under Pakistani law, the judge at Monday's hearing can either set a trial date, hold the suspects for further investigation or free them.

Dow Jones, which publishes The Wall Street Journal, issued a statement Friday saying it hasn't heard from Pearl's kidnappers in over a week, but remained ``very confident'' that he is alive and would be released soon.

Musharraf, speaking Friday before he left for the United States, also said he was hopeful.

``We are getting near. We've got some key personalities, and I very much hope that we get to him and we get him freed soon,'' said Musharraf, who is scheduled to meet President Bush on Wednesday.

Saeed was arrested in India in 1994 in the kidnapping of Western backpackers but was freed on Dec. 31, 1999, in exchange for passengers of an Indian Airlines jet hijacked to Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Police have detained several members of his family in their search for Pearl. Police said his two brothers were still in custody.

A police source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Saeed visited his aunt's two-story white concrete home here Jan. 24 and Jan. 25. Saeed also is believed to have met Naseem, Adeel and Saqib on Jan. 24, the day after Pearl's disappearance, the source said.

Western intelligence sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, believe Saeed sent $100,000 to Mohamed Atta, suspected ringleader of the Sept. 11 terrorist hijackings, through a system known as hawala that bypasses banks and official financial institutions.

Another leading suspect in Pearl's kidnapping, Mohammed Hashim Qadeer, is believed to be an active member of Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, or Movement of Holy Warriors. That group is also known to have close links to Afghanistan's former Taliban regime and al-Qaida.

In their first e-mail, Pearl's kidnappers identified themselves as the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty. They demanded better conditions for imprisoned Taliban and al-Qaida fighters in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and the release of the Taliban's former ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, being held by the United States.

They also demanded that Pakistanis held by the United States be returned here for trial.