Suspect’s family prays for reporter Pearl’s release
ISLAMABAD- The family of the man accused of masterminding the kidnapping of US reporter Daniel Pearl said on Sunday they were praying for Pearl’s safe release.
Pakistani authorities have named British-born Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, better known as Sheikh Omar, as their prime suspect in the case, and have been putting pressure on his family in the hope this will lead to Pearl.
Sheikh Omar’s aunt insists it is all a big mistake.
“I don’t know why the police are picking up male members of the family, Omar never even lived in this house,” his aunt said, obviously harassed by the attention her family is attracting.
“Anyway, he is not the sort of boy who would go around killing people,” she said on telephone from her home in the eastern city of Lahore.
Pearl, a 38-year-old reporter for the Wall Street Journal, was kidnapped in Karachi on January 23 while he was trying to contact Jehadi groups.
As suspicion fell on Sheikh Omar, police briefly detained his 90-year-old grandfather and are still holding his uncle and two male cousins.
Omar has been portrayed as a dangerous Jehadi activist with a record of kidnapping and even an alleged link to the September 11 attacks on the United States. His aunt says he is just one of the family.
“I am sure Omar could not have done it,” she said. “I am sure he is innocent, because if he was not innocent, seeing family members in trouble like this, he would have come out.
“He is not the sort who could stand by and watch family members suffering.”
Two other male cousins, whose father is no longer alive, were detained after a raid on another aunt’s house in Karachi.
Outside the family’s house in a middle-class district of Lahore, neighbours said the family kept themselves to themselves and did not really mix. The gates were firmly closed on Sunday.
Inside, Sheikh Omar’s aunt said everyone was deeply upset by recent events.
“We are all sitting here and praying that Pearl is found,” she said.
The son of a clothes merchant from Wanstead in east London and a former student at the London School of Economics, 27-year-old Sheikh Omar already has a long record of religious extremism.
He was jailed for five years in India for allegedly kidnapping British and American tourists there in 1994, although Indian authorities never pressed charges.
He was subsequently released together with two prominent Jehadis on December 31, 1999, in exchange for 155 passengers on an Indian airliner hijacked to the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.
For a while he kept a low profile, disappearing from view with his wife and new-born son. But Sheikh Omar’s name popped up again after the September 11 plane attacks on the United States.
Indian police have accused him of involvement in the transfer of $100,000 to Mohammad Ata, one of the pilots who flew airliners into New York’s World Trade Centre.
Source: Business Recorder