Militants convicted in killing of Pearl

Chief defendant Saeed sentenced to death in U.S. reporter's slaying

July 15, 2002|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

HYDERABAD, Pakistan -- An anti-terrorism court today sentenced to death the mastermind in the kidnapping and murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl.

Judge Syed Ali Ashraf Shah found Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh, a Briton of Pakistani descent, and three accomplices guilty of the Wall Street Journal reporter's abduction and murder, prosecutor Raja Qureshi told reporters this morning.

He handed down life sentences to Salman Saquib, Fahad Naseem, and Sheikh Adil, who was accused of sending pictures of Pearl in captivity in two e-mails to news organizations.

The judge heard 23 prosecution witnesses. He also fined the three men handed life sentences just more than $8,300 each, and ordered all four to pay an additional $33,000 in total after the conviction on charges that included murder, conspiracy to kidnap, demanding ransom and destroying evidence.

All four men pleaded not guilty to the charges, and their lawyers have already said they would appeal a guilty verdict, first to the provincial High Court, and then to Pakistan's Supreme Court if necessary.

It could be many months before Sheikh and his accomplices have exhausted all appeals.

The prosecutor said he might launch his own appeal to have Saquib, Naseem, and Adil executed along with Sheikh. Executions are usually carried out by hanging.

"I will await for government instructions [on] whether the state will appeal the life sentences against the three or not," Quereshi said. "Whatever the state's instructions are, I will act upon them."

"We continue to mourn Danny Pearl," said Steven Goldstein, vice president of Dow Jones & Co., parent company of The Wall Street Journal. "And we continue to hope that everyone responsible for his kidnapping and murder will be brought to justice. Today's verdict is one step in that direction."

The closed trial in a special anti-terrorism court began April 22 at Karachi's central jail, but it was moved to the city of Hyderabad, about 100 miles away, after there was a threat to blow up the facility.

About 600 Pakistani police and commandos guarded the Hyderabad jail, where the verdict was delivered this morning. In an effort to prevent a violent backlash, Pakistani authorities had rounded up 30 suspected extremists last night.

The trial was supposed to last seven days, but it ended up dragging on for three months. Two judges were replaced in the course of the trial: The first was removed because he had been present at a session in which Sheikh admitted to involvement in Pearl's kidnapping; Sheikh later recanted, and his lawyers argued that allowing him to hear the case would be prejudicial against the defense. The second judge to hear the case was replaced after prosecutors complained he had failed to stop the accused from making threatening gestures in court.

Sheikh was arrested in February. The United States had asked that he be extradited, but Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf turned down the request, insisting that the trial and punishment should be carried out in Pakistan to send a message that extremists won't be tolerated.

Pearl, 38, South Asia bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal, disappeared Jan. 23 while working on a story about alleged "shoe bomber" Richard C. Reid, the Briton accused of trying to set off explosives in his sneakers during a December flight from Paris to Miami.

He was last seen at Karachi's Village Garden restaurant, where he went to meet a source from a Muslim extremist group. Taxi driver Nasir Abbas testified that he saw Pearl and Sheikh get into a car at that restaurant the night Pearl disappeared. A Pakistani journalist who was working with Pearl also identified Sheikh in court as a man Pearl met that night.

Following the kidnapping, a previously unknown group calling itself the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty e-mailed photographs of Pearl in hancuffs, with a pistol at his head, to American news organizations.

An investigator from the FBI testified that he traced the e-mails to a laptop used by one of Sheikh's accomplices.

A month after Pearl vanished, U.S. diplomats received a grisly, three-minute videotape of his slaying and decapitation. Sheikh's lawyers insisted during the trial that the videotape was a fake.

"Give us time and a photograph of [prosecutor] Raja Qureshi, and we could produce the same sort of film, with Qureshi being slaughtered," defense lawyer Rai Bashir said.

Pakistani police found what they believe to be Pearl's remains in May after arresting members of the banned Islamic extremist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. The group is one of several suspected of involvement in a suicide bomb attack at the Sheraton Hotel in Karachi this spring.

"The government will impose the decision at the behest of the United States," said Sheikh Aslam, Adil's brother, as he arrived to hear the verdict. "All executive decisions in Pakistan are being imposed by the United States."

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