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E-Mail Trail To Pearl Suspects

May 11, 2002

The chief defendant in the trial of suspected Islamic militants charged in the kidnap-slaying of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl passed a message to reporters Saturday denying any link with the suicide bombing this week that killed 11 French engineers.

British-born Islamic militant Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheik, while denying a link to the Karachi suicide attack in the message forward by his lawyer, said “Pakistan must end its friendship with America if it wants peace.”

A heavily guarded American FBI agent, meanwhile, told a Pakistani court how he traced e-mails to the Muslim militants suspected in the crime.

The expert, identified by the prosecution as Ronald Joseph, presented a 50-page report describing the e-mails with photographs of Pearl in captivity and giving other details of the messages and the routing they took, said Prosecutor Raja Quereshi.

Defense lawyer Rai Bashir said Joseph testified that he had determined that the messages had been sent from a laptop seized by authorities.

Neither Quereshi nor Bashir went into detail about Joseph's testimony in a makeshift courtroom behind a series of high walls in the Hyderabad Central Jail. Bashir said he would have to study the testimony so that he could cross-question the agent next Thursday.

Joseph was brought to the jail where the closed door trial is being held in a high security convoy of more than a dozen vehicles.

The FBI's tracing of the e-mail has been regarded as a major break in the case, because it led to the arrests of the four defendants. Seven other suspects are still at large.

Pearl disappeared Jan. 23 while researching Pakistani extremists and their possible links to Richard Reid, who was arrested in December on a flight from Paris to Miami with explosives in his shoes.

Also testifying Saturday was a hotel clerk who identified Saeed as having met with Pearl in a hotel room in Rawalpindi earlier in January.

Other witnesses have identified Saeed as being at the Rawalpindi meeting and greeting Pearl in Karachi just before he disappeared.

A few days after Pearl vanished, the previously unknown National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty announced his kidnapping in e-mails to U.S. and Pakistani news organizations.

The e-mails complained about the treatment of al-Qaida and Taliban prisoners at the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo, Cuba, and threatened to kill other Americans in Pakistan.

A videotape received Feb. 21 by U.S. diplomats in Pakistan confirmed Pearl, 38, was dead. His body has not been found.

Three of the co-defendants were arrested after the FBI and police traced the e-mails to the laptop, which belonged to one of them, Fahad Naseem. Naseem confessed and said Saeed told him three days before the kidnapping that he planned to abduct someone who is “anti-Islam and a Jew.”

Saeed told the court Saturday that the United States was committing “atrocities in Palestine, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia,” defense lawyer Bashir quoted him as saying. “We cannot betray the blood of our martyrs.”

But he denied any link with the suicide bombing on a bus full of French naval engineers Wednesday that also killed three Pakistanis and wounded 11 others.

“We are not involved in terrorism,” Saeed said.

Saeed, who was arrested in February in the eastern city of Lahore, and his three co-defendants have pleaded innocent to charges of murder, kidnapping and terrorism. They face the death penalty if convicted in the trial that began April 22 in Karachi.

Police sharpshooters were positioned on rooftops around the court. An armored personnel carrier stood outside the jail gates. A dozen policemen with bulletproof vests and submachine guns patrolled the jail perimeter.

Saeed has complained about the proceedings, saying he wanted to be tried in an Islamic court.

The trial is being conducted by Pakistan's special anti-terrorist courts, which were set up several years ago to provide so-called “speedy justice” by requiring cases to be heard and concluded within a limited time period.

There is only one appeal to a conviction in the anti-terrorist court. A death sentence can be appealed to the president of Pakistan.

The trial was transferred to Hyderabad, about 60 miles northeast of Karachi, after Quereshi said he feared for his safety.

Earlier this week, defense lawyer Bashir accused Quereshi of committing blasphemy. He charged the chief prosecutor made statements derogatory to Islam and to Islam's prophet Mohammed.

His specific words were not revealed, but in Pakistan it is dangerous to be accused of blasphemy. In the past vigilante Islamic militants here have attacked and killed people accused of blasphemy before any trial could be held.

Quereshi said Saturday that Bashir's allegations were baseless.

“I cannot stoop that low,” Quereshi said

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