Government concerns mount over Pearl's safety: minister -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Government concerns mount over Pearl’s safety: minister

KARACHI- Pakistan’s government said on Sunday concerns were mounting over the safety of kidnapped US reporter Daniel Pearl, with no word from the kidnappers or major breakthroughs in the case for several days.

“Of course we are (becoming increasingly concerned)… because we were hoping for a breakthrough in the last two or three days – but all of us are trying very hard,” Pakistan’s Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider on Sunday.

Police, who say there has been no direct contact with Pearl’s kidnappers for 11 days, have not announced any significant developments since three suspects were detained in the southern city of Karachi last Tuesday.

But Haider said the prime suspect, British-born Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, better known as Sheikh Omar, had been in telephone contact with one of his aunts on Tuesday.

Police have detained several of Omar’s family, including an uncle and two cousins, in the hope this will put pressure on Omar to give himself up.

“She (his aunt) said ‘we have been rounded up by the police and I think your game is up. We didn’t know you were indulging in this thing, you had better hand yourself over’,” Haider said.

“He (Omar) heard this and after this, his telephone went dead …that was the last contact,” he added.

Haider said he believed Wall Street Journal reporter Pearl, 38, was still being held captive in the southern city of Karachi, where he vanished on January 23 as he tried to track down elusive Jehadi leader Mubarak Ali Shah Gilani.

But he said he believed Omar had fled to the populous central province of Punjab, which runs along the border with India.

“We very strongly feel he (Pearl) is in Karachi. He could not have moved out of Karachi by road, rail or air. He would have been detected,” Haider said. “His abductors would not take this risk because there are many checkposts along the route.”

“UNNECESSARY RISKS”: Police believe Pearl was kidnapped by three men who had promised to arrange a clandestine interview with Gilani.

“I really think that in this case, Daniel Pearl took unnecessary risks,” Haider said. “He (Gilani) was a free man, he was not under suspicion, he was not under surveillance by anybody and he could have interviewed him in one of the big hotels here. “To fall into the hands of these go-betweens and fixers and contact persons who were of dubious character, and going and meeting them at odd places, I think he put himself at great risk,” Haider said.

In the week following Pearl’s abduction, some news organisations received two emails demanding the United States release its prisoners from the Afghan war, including Pakistanis held at a US naval base in Cuba.

Both emails included photographs of the reporter in captivity with a gun to his head – the second one, sent on January 30, threatened to kill Pearl within 24 hours.

With the FBI’s help, police say they traced the emails to 21-year-old Fawwad Naseem. He was picked up on Tuesday, and led police to two other men suspected of having links to Jehadi groups.

The three suspects, who are expected to appear in court on Monday, told police they were given the photographs of Pearl by Sheikh Omar, investigators said. Haider said the three had been charged with terrorism and being accomplices to kidnapping.

Earlier in the week, Pakistani police were boasting that the case would be solved in day or two. Since then, however, progress slowed and Omar appears to have disappeared without trace.

“In kidnapping cases, we sometimes slow down the investigation as the part of our plan, and according to the tactical moves required to handle the situation,” a senior police officer insisted on Sunday. “We don’t want to create panic among the kidnappers…that could harm Pearl.”

Nevertheless, their failure to solve the case threatens to cast a shadow over President Pervez Musharraf’s official visit to Washington, which begins on Tuesday.

Musharraf announced a crackdown on religious extremists in January, and has become something of a darling in the West because of his staunch support for the US-led war on terrorism.

However, some US newspapers have already suggested that Pakistan’s powerful intelligence services, long thought to have links with Jehadis, might know more about the Pearl case than they are letting on.

“This is certainly a very unfortunate case,” Haider said, “but I hope this does not overshadow the whole new relationship that is being built up between Pakistan and America.”

Source: Business Recorder