The shaky bond between reporters and militants

Pakistani officials are interrogating 12 people in connection with missing reporter.

Almost two weeks after his apparent abduction, the whereabouts and safety of The Wall Street Journal's reporter Daniel Pearl remains a mystery.

But a flurry of recent messages from his supposed captors - the Islamic group National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty - suggest a division within their organization both over their goals and over the fate of their American captive.

US-trained Pakistani antiterrorism experts are now searching areas outside Karachi and are investigating the Islamic group's possible links to desert tribes, according to Reuters reports.

"The kidnappers might have shifted Pearl to some interior parts of the province, which are known for harboring criminals and providing them protection," a source close to the investigation told Reuters. "Investigators are focusing outside Karachi with some police parties being sent to interior parts of southern Sindh province and areas bordering Baluchistan province."

US Embassy spokesman Mark Wentworth says that law-enforcement officials and Mr. Pearl's family continue to be hopeful, and that Pakistani police and FBI telecommunications experts continue to cooperate in tracing the various e-mails and locating Pearl and his captors. "This remains a Pakistani case, and they are pursuing it vigorously," says Mr. Wentworth, from Islamabad.

For journalists who cover South Asia, the search for Pearl has sparked a debate about the dangers of reporting on the radical Islamic movements that may end up shaping the political and religious future of Pakistan and other Muslim nations.

A tenuous symbiosis between reporter and militant has always existed.

Reporters meet with militants, whether in five-star hotels or in isolated village mosques, to find out their views and to get a window into their future actions. Militants agree to meet reporters to share their views with the world.

Yet many journalists who follow militant movements in Pakistan say the abduction of Pearl is an example of how the relationship between militant and reporter has grown more distant and tense in the past few years, and especially after Sept. 11.

"I used to occasionally call a contact in one militant group, but in the last one or two years, they had become pretty reluctant," says Ejaz Haider, news editor for the Friday Times, Pakistan's preeminent English language weekly. "I asked my contact why, and he said, 'Well, what's the point? These journalists talk to us and then they go off and write whatever they want. They never understand our viewpoint.' "

Still, Mr. Haider says, the kidnapping of Pearl is an aberration and that most Pakistani-based militant groups would continue to cooperate with journalists, even Western ones.

"My own sense, is that most of these groups still wouldn't do this sort of thing," Haider says. "Given the strategic configuration we see [between Pakistan and the US], these groups would need the media to put their viewpoint to the world."

Pearl was last seen on his way to a meeting with an Islamic cleric, Sheik Mubarak Ali Shah Gilani. He had been investigating links between Mr. Gilani and shoe bomber Richard Reid.

Since Pearl's disappearance, investigators have assumed that the National Movement for the Restoration of Paksitani Sovereignty is a well-organized splinter group from the now-banned militant group Harkat ul-Mujahideen. Karachi police believe there are at least two factions within the group. The e-mail that said Pearl "is (may be) alive," for instance, added: "I had a big burden on my conscience." Pakistani police also located a computer that they say was used to write one of the earlier e-mails.

The apparent technical sophistication of the kidnappers and the fairly cogent arguments in their original e-mails, has led many analysts to conclude that the group must have the support of a state intelligence agency.

Predictably, the Pakistani and Indian governments have pointed fingers at each other. India says Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI) has long financed and trained militant groups and the radical religious parties that provide their base of support. Pakistan, meanwhile, says that a mobile phone apparently used to contact authorities after Pearl's kidnapping, also made three calls to "top Indian personalities" in New Delhi. Neither country has provided proof for their charges.

But while some analysts worry that militant groups may begin to target Western journalists out of resentment toward America's "war on terrorism," others say that fringe groups who might carry out such attacks are weakened by President Musharraf's crackdown on militancy.

"The main backbone of the movement, all the top leaders are behind bars or under house arrest," says Haider. "There are always foot soldiers, the heavy lifters, and some of these groups can always band together. But these groups don't have the sophistication to carry out such an operation on their own."

Sami Yusufzai, a Peshawar- based reporter for The News, also covers radical movements in Pakistan and says that most groups have probably gone underground to see if Musharraf's anti-terrorist crackdown abates.

In the meantime, few would be willing to break ties with the news media, who are often their only contact with the powerbrokers they seek to influence. "This group wants to create a drama, because they want to bring attention to the treatment of Al Qaeda prisoners in Cuba," says Mr. Yusufzai. "I don't think any other militant group would do this sort of thing."

• Material from wire services was used in this report.

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