Pearl hunt shifts to key accomplice
KARACHI- After seizing the mastermind of the kidnapping of US reporter Daniel Pearl, investigators said on Friday their focus had shifted to finding a key accomplice who they say actually carried out the abduction.
While they suspect British-born Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh of planning and financing Pearl’s kidnap, they said a second man, using the name Imtiaz Siddiqui, did the dirty work and was still keeping the reporter captive.
Siddiqui, they say, phoned Pearl twice in the hour before he disappeared on January 23 and arranged to meet him outside the Village Restaurant on a busy street in downtown Karachi, promising to take him to interview a religious organisation.
Pearl has not been seen since, except in a series of chilling photographs sent by his captives showing the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reporter in chains and with a gun to his head.
Investigators say they are close to confirming just who Imtiaz Siddiqui really is, and finding out where he and his associates are holding the 38-year-old Pearl.
“We are still identifying the main guy and we are going to get him,” said a senior investigator. “He was the one who arranged to meet Daniel and he’s the guy who has kept him.”
Investigators said they did not want to give Siddiqui’s real name, while Sindh police chief Syed Kamal Shah also declined to give any names ‘for reasons of secrecy’.
‘We have an idea who is holding him, but it is not advisable to name him,’ Shah told one of the sources. ‘That could give him a clue we are after him.’
Local newspapers said Sheikh Omar’s main accomplice was a fellow who was involved in the 1999 hijacking of an Indian airliner to the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.
Shah said several people were also helping police to track down the remaining suspects. ‘People associated with the investigation, some of them are helping us with whatever knowledge they have,’ he said.
SHEIKH OMAR SPREADS CONFUSION: Sheikh Omar, who was arrested earlier his week, calmly confessed to the kidnapping of Pearl before an anti-terrorism court on Thursday, and said he believed Pearl was dead.
The government dismissed the claim as untrustworthy while the WSJ said it remained confident Pearl was alive.
Police say Omar had earlier told them Pearl was still alive, while investigators talk of evidence, too sensitive to reveal, which also gives them hope Pearl is alive.
Police sources said they raided another house in the Gulshan-e-Iqbal overnight but found it empty.
Despite conflicting words from Omar, police remained upbeat.
‘There’s no solid progress, but we are working very hard,’ Shah said, ‘and we are trying to get the remaining accused involved in this case. We are hopeful we will be able to get them…as soon as possible.’
EXACT MOTIVES UNCLEAR: Pearl’s wife, Mariane, who is six months pregnant with their first child, on Thursday again urged his captors to let her husband go or at least give her some word on his condition.
“As I do not have any news about Danny’s health and well-being, this has been a very difficult time for me.”
Before he disappeared, Pearl was working on a story about possible links between alleged shoe bomber Briton Richard Reid and Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network.
The precise motives for his kidnapping remain unclear but it appears to have been a protest at the US war in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s support for that effort.
In the wake of Pearl’s disappearance, the previously unknown National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty sent two e-mails containing photographs of the captive reporter.
The first threatened to keep Pearl in ‘inhumane conditions’ because of the treatment of US prisoners from the Afghan war. The second, sent on January 30, threatened to kill Pearl within 24 hours if the United States did not release its Pakistani prisoners.
In his brief court appearance on Thursday, Omar said he had his own reasons for kidnapping Pearl, adding only: ‘Our country should not be catering to the needs of America.’-Reuters
Source: Business Recorder