Judge delays proceedings for Pearl’s accused killers
KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) — A Pakistani judge on Friday again delayed proceedings against four men accused in the kidnap-slaying of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl to enable the court to try co-conspirators still at large.
British-born Islamic militant Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, 28, and three co-defendants appeared yesterday in a makeshift courtroom inside the Karachi Central Jail, where they are being held on charges of murder, kidnapping and terrorism. They face the death penalty if convicted.
Judge Arshad Noor Khan adjourned the proceedings after 30 minutes and ordered the session to reconvene April 22. The weeklong delay would allow the court to try the seven suspects in absentia along with the four men in custody, chief prosecutor Raja Quereshi said.
Quereshi said he expected Saeed and the three others to enter pleas during the next session. Lawyers said Saeed has demanded trial by an Islamic court, saying he does not recognize Pakistan’s “British” secular court system.
Pearl, the Journal’s South Asia correspondent, disappeared Jan. 23 on his way to a Karachi restaurant to meet an Islamic militant believed to have been Saeed. A few days later, e-mails sent by the previously unknown National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty announced his kidnapping and showed pictures of him in captivity.
A videotape received by U.S. diplomats in Pakistan on Feb. 21 confirmed Pearl, 38, was dead. His body has not been found. Saeed and the three others were arrested before the tape was received.
The first trial session on April 5 ended after one hour so the prosecution could have time to provide the defense with copies of the e-mails. U.S. investigators traced the e-mails to one of the defendants, Fahad Naseem, who then identified Saeed as the mastermind, police said.
Yesterday, Judge Khan ruled that the videotape confirming Pearl’s death could be used as evidence and that prosecutors do not have to submit it to the defense until it is shown in court, Quereshi said.
Khan also ordered a medical examination for defendant Salman Saqib, who is suffering from hepatitis C and complications from a bullet wound suffered in Afghanistan while fighting for the Taliban, according to his lawyer, Khawaja Naveed Ahmed.
The fourth defendant in custody is a former policeman, Sheikh Mohammed Adeel.
Reporters were barred from the courtroom yesterday but were briefed afterward by lawyers from both sides.
Defense lawyers said they asked the judge to cite President Pervez Musharraf for contempt of court for remarks he allegedly made to journalists, saying he thought Saeed should be executed. The judge said he would rule later, but the chief prosecutor said the motion would be rejected because Musharraf enjoys constitutional immunity.
Musharraf has said Pakistan will try to punish Saeed before considering whether to hand him over to the United States.
Saeed has been indicted in the Pearl case by a federal grand jury in New Jersey and was indicted secretly in the 1994 kidnapping of an American citizen in India.
Saeed joined Islamic extremist movements after traveling to the Balkans about 10 years ago. He trained in Afghanistan and then went to India, where he was arrested in 1994 for kidnapping Westerners.
He was freed in December 1999 along with two other Islamic militants in exchange for the passengers and crew of an Indian Airlines jet that was hijacked to Afghanistan.