New details in Pearl murder could affect appeals

Militants claim reporter Daniel Pearl was murdered by an Arab, Pakistani police announced yesterday.

Three Pakistani militants who led police to the body of Daniel Pearl claim The Wall Street Journal correspondent was murdered by an Arab two days after he tried to escape from kidnappers, investigators said yesterday.

The alleged new details of Pearl's kidnap-slaying do not exonerate British-born militant Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, convicted with three others July 15. Mr. Saeed was sentenced to death by hanging; the others received life sentences.

However, their claims could influence the appeal filed by Saeed and the others with the high court here in Sindh Province. Some of the new details conflict with evidence presented at the first trial.

Mr. Pearl was kidnapped Jan. 23 in Karachi while researching links between Pakistani Islamic extremists and shoe-bomber Richard Reid, who was arrested in December on a flight from Paris to Miami.

Two police investigators, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said three militants – Naeem Bukhari, Fazal Karim, and Zubair Chishti – have admitted a role in Pearl's kidnapping. However, they have not been charged, and Pakistani authorities have not even acknowledged officially that they are being held.

According to the two police officers, the militants said Saeed telephoned them on the evening of Jan. 23 and told them Pearl was en route to the Village Restaurant, where he expected to meet an Islamic activist supposedly trying to arrange an interview with a prominent cleric.

Pearl was put in one car, which was followed by another vehicle containing three other kidnappers. The two vehicles followed Mr. Bukhari, who led the convoy on a motorcycle to the shack where Pearl was to be held. According to the two investigators, Pearl tried to escape on his sixth day in captivity as he was being led to the toilet. However, he was tackled by Mr. Karim and Mr. Chishti, who beat him and shot him in the leg. The struggle made so much noise that students at a nearby Islamic school ran out onto the roof to see what was happening, police said.

A day after the escape attempt, police said, Bukhari told his fellow kidnappers that they must kill Pearl, although the officers said it was unclear who gave the order for his murder.

On the ninth day of the kidnapping, three Arabs, whom the suspects believed to have been Yemenis, were brought to the hideout, the police said. The two officers said the militants told them the Arabs were associates of Ramzi Yousef – the imprisoned mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

Police said the kidnappers began asking Pearl questions about his religion and background as one of the Arabs filmed it with a video camera. Suddenly, Karim seized Pearl's hands and one of the Arabs slit his throat, the officers said. The actual murder was supposed to have been recorded but "the cameraman lost his nerve," one of the policemen said. The video was later sent to the US Consulate in Karachi, confirming Pearl's death.

The effect of the new allegations on the case against Saeed and the three others is unclear. All four were arrested in February before the tape appeared, but the government never alleged that Saeed or the others were personally involved in Pearl's murder. Authorities said they were looking for seven others in the case.

However, a taxi driver testified for the prosecution that he saw Saeed get into the car with Pearl, which differs from the three militants' account. Pakistani lawyers not involved in the case said the appeals court, which agreed to consider the case this week, could order a new trial if the policemen's account is corroborated.

At the time Pearl's body was discovered, state-run Pakistan Television said police were led to the grave by three members of the outlawed Lashkar-e-Janghvi, a radical Islamic group with links to Al Qaeda. Pearl's body was found on property owned by the Al-Rashid Trust, whose assets were frozen by the US last year after accusations it was a conduit for money to Al Qaeda.

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