Unsure fate for kidnap victim

Abducted journalist dead by one account, alive by another

Ransom demand reported

Police in Pakistan `hopeful' Pearl OK, will be found soon

February 02, 2002|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - The fate of kidnapped American journalist Daniel Pearl remained unclear yesterday amid conflicting claims.

CNN reported late last night in Pakistan that it had received an e-mail purportedly sent by the kidnappers that said Pearl, a Wall Street Journal correspondent abducted 10 days ago in Karachi, had been killed.

But also yesterday, a telephone caller to the U.S. Consulate in Karachi who claimed to represent Pearl's abductors demanded a $2 million ransom and set a 36-hour deadline for payment.

It could not be immediately determined if either the e-mail or the telephone call came from the abductors.

But a key Pakistani police investigator in the case said he did not think Pearl was dead. The investigator said in a telephone interview from Karachi that he thought the ransom demand came from the kidnappers.

"We are very hopeful," he said. "We have our ways of knowing. We are very optimistic we will find him within the next 24 hours."

Pearl, 38, disappeared Jan. 23 after going to a restaurant to meet with members of a militant Islamic group believed to have links to the al-Qaida terrorist network.

Sunday, a previously unknown group identifying itself as the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty sent e-mails to several news organizations claiming responsibility for the kidnapping and listing demands. Attached to the e-mails were photos of Pearl, including one showing him with a gun pointed to his head.

That message was followed Wednesday by another, warning that Pearl would be killed in 24 hours if the group's demands were not met. It also warned that all other American reporters in Pakistan would be targeted if they did not leave the country within three days. A message Thursday gave a one-day stay of execution.

Initial demands included the release of all Pakistani nationals who were captured in Afghanistan and are being held at a U.S. military base in Guantanamo, Cuba. Another demand was that the former Taliban regime's ambassador to Pakistan, who is in U.S. custody, be turned over to Pakistan.

$2 million sought

Still another was that the United States hand over to Pakistan F-16 fighter jets that Pakistan bought in the 1980s but that were never delivered because of sanctions imposed over Pakistan's nuclear weapons program.

In the telephone call to the U.S. Consulate yesterday, the purported representative of the kidnappers demanded $2 million and the return to Pakistan of the former Taliban ambassador, Abdul Salam Zaeef, according to the police investigator. Zaeef was arrested in Pakistan and turned over to U.S. authorities.

The U.S. government has a long-standing policy of not negotiating with kidnappers. But the police investigator in Karachi said late last night that Pakistani authorities are "trying to broker a deal" between the American government and the kidnappers.

Pakistani police and the FBI have interviewed Sheik Mubarik Ali Gilani, a militant Islamic cleric who is believed to be the person Pearl hoped to meet when he was abducted.

Police say Gilani has extensive ties to Islamic militants in the United States and has been linked to both Osama bin Laden and Richard Reid, who allegedly tried to blow up a plane with a shoe bomb. Gilani, according to police, has run military camps that trained Islamic extremists.

In Kashmir, a territory that both Pakistan and India claim, Islamic militants have fought against Indian rule for decades. Yet the investigator in Karachi said police have concluded that Gilani has ties to India's intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).

"We have found enough evidence to suggest Gilani is in contact with a few important Indian personalities," he said. "This [kidnapping] was done by RAW - we're quite firm about that."

India denies involvement

The investigator's allegation came just hours after Pakistan's foreign minister, Abdul Sattar, said Gilani's phone records showed calls to important people in the Indian government, but added that he was not alleging Gilani was working with anyone in India.

India's government rejected the suggestion of India's involvement as "ridiculous."

The police investigator said suspicions that India might have engineered the kidnapping have been heightened by Pearl's connection to an India-born woman who is a U.S. national.

Pearl and his wife, Mariane, were living with the woman in a house in Karachi that the woman had rented. Her whereabouts are unknown.

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