Police say Pearl's fate still unclear -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Police say Pearl’s fate still unclear

KARACHI- Police said on Wednesday the fate of kidnapped US reporter Daniel Pearl remained unclear after questioning their chief suspect for more than a day.

“Unless we discover firm evidence about what has happened to Daniel, I would say it is unclear (if he is still alive),” said Syed Kamal Shah, police chief for Sindh.

On Tuesday, police said they had arrested their prime suspect in the case, British-born Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, and said he had told them Pearl was still alive and in Karachi.

Hopes were high that Pearl’s release would follow swiftly, to coincide with President Musharraf’s official visit to Washington.

But police said Sheikh Omar, as he is commonly known, had not given police much information.

“He has not told us anything substantial which might ease the recovery of Daniel Pearl,” Shah said. “We have found him to be a hard nut to crack.”

Shah said Sheikh Omar, who was picked up in Lahore on Tuesday afternoon, could have been misleading police when he said Pearl was still in Karachi, where he disappeared three weeks ago.

“When an accused person comes up with an initial statement, it may not be true,” Shah said. “Initially every accused tries to dodge his interrogators, tries to mislead them.”

Other officials said they remained optimistic.

“Don’t worry, we will recover Pearl soon,” said Sindh provincial Interior Secretary Brigadier Mukhtar Ahmed. “I personally feel, and still feel, and I have a hunch and instinct he is alive,” he added.

SUSPECT GAVE HIMSELF IN: An official close to the investigation said that, as police closed in, Sheikh Omar decided to give himself up in return for a promise that his family would be protected, including his wife and baby son.

“We had conducted so many raids, we were breathing down his neck, he had no choice (but to give himself up),” said another senior investigator.

Police had detained several of Sheikh Omar’s relatives, including an uncle and two male cousins, in an attempt to force their suspect to turn himself in.

The relatives were freed on Monday, according to one of his aunts. But she said she had no idea if there had been a deal.

Police had been expected to produce Sheikh Omar in court on Wednesday, but he failed to materialise.

Before he disappeared, Wall Street Journal reporter Pearl, 38, was trying to contact religious groups and was working on a story about possible links between alleged shoe bomber Briton Richard Reid and Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network.

The previously unknown National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty sent two e-mails in the week after Pearl vanished showing photographs of the reporter in chains and with a gun to his head.

The first e-mail threatened to keep Pearl in ‘inhumane’ conditions to protest at the United States’ treatment of prisoners from the Afghan war. The second, sent on January 30, threatened to kill him within 24 hours.

Three people were arrested last week and accused of having sent the e-mails. Police say the three men had told them they had received the photographs from Sheikh Omar.

TRAIL GOES COLD: For a while the trail appeared to go cold, but investigators said they made another important breakthrough when they picked up another suspect in the capital, Islamabad, on Monday.

Omar, the son of a clothes merchant from Wanstead in east London, studied at the London School of Economics.

Pearl’s wife, Mariane, who is six months pregnant with their first child, has made public appeals for her husband to be freed.

Source: Business Recorder