KARACHI, Pakistan — A nervous uncertainty surrounded the fate of American journalist Daniel Pearl on Saturday, with no apparent communication from his alleged kidnappers and no trace of his whereabouts after three separate police searches for his body in this turbulent port city.
The searches were triggered Friday night by an e-mail--allegedly from Pearl's abductors--claiming that the 38-year-old Wall Street Journal reporter had been killed and his body thrown "in the grave yards of Karachi." The chilling message, the fourth purportedly from the kidnappers received by U.S. and Pakistani media organizations, was sent to Fox and CNN.
Provincial police Inspector General Syed Kamel Shah said authorities had carried out three separate fruitless searches of Karachi's 300-odd cemeteries since late Friday.
"Nothing has been found," he told The Times.
The absence of any such discovery rekindled hopes that, contrary to the fears that dominated the mood here Friday, Pearl might still be alive--that the message declaring his death, like reports Friday of a ransom demand, was wrong.
"Based on reports from Pakistan, we now believe that both of the messages received yesterday about Danny were false," said Paul Steiger, managing editor of the Journal. "We continue to believe that Danny is alive. Yet, we have not heard from Danny's captors in two or three days."
Still, through much of Saturday, it was evident that the only certainty was the continued confusion about the journalist's fate.
"We don't have anything," added Lonnie Kelley, a spokesman for the U.S. Consulate in Karachi. "We're waiting, hopefully for the kidnappers to release Danny."
More Suspects Detained in Probe
Pearl disappeared 11 days ago on his way to an interview in Karachi. The first e-mail apparently from his kidnappers contained four photos of him and a variety of demands, including one for the release of Pakistani prisoners now being held at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. That and subsequent messages labeled him variously an American or Israeli intelligence agent.
Shah said that additional suspects in the case were detained during a raid Friday on a house in Karachi. The house is believed to have contained a computer on which at least one of the four e-mails related to the case was composed and sent.
"I have nothing solid to say, but I think we are making headway--progress toward getting some clue," Shah said. "We are interrogating these people."
His comments came as authorities appeared to have completed their questioning of Sheik Mubarak Ali Shah Gilani, once the prime suspect. Gilani heads a militant group in Karachi and is the person Pearl was on his way to meet when he disappeared.
Pearl was investigating reports of a possible link between Gilani and alleged "shoe bomber" Richard C. Reid, who has been charged with trying to ignite explosives embedded in his shoes aboard a Paris-to-Miami commercial airliner Dec. 22.
Sources close to the Pearl case said that questioning Gilani had led both the Pakistani police and the FBI to conclude that he had no role in Pearl's disappearance.
There also were reports Saturday of new e-mails claiming to relate to the case, but authorities appeared to be treating them as hoaxes.
The circumstances surrounding Pearl's disappearance have had an impact on scores of American journalists based in Pakistan to report the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
Three of the four e-mail messages included direct or veiled death threats against U.S. journalists. The most chilling came Wednesday, in the second missive: "We warn all Amreekan journlists waorking in pakistan that there are many in their ranks spying on pakstan under the journlist cover. Therefore we give all amreekan journalists 3 days to get out of pakstan. Anyone remaining after that will be targetted."
On Friday, the e-mail announcing that Pearl had been killed added that "now we are thirsty for the blood of another American."
U.S. Journalists Not at Risk, Minister Says
However, Pakistani Information Minister Anwar Mehmood scoffed at any suggestion that U.S. journalists are under threat, and he said his ministry would not change a policy he described as "absolute freedom in Pakistan."
"I have not received any communication" threatening foreign journalists, Mehmood said. "There has been this very unfortunate incident involving Daniel Pearl, but other than that, there have been no threats. We have had more than 3,000 journalists here since Sept. 11, and they have had no problems. . . . No harm was ever done to a foreign journalist. What does that signify? There is no generalized threat to journalists."
On the streets of the nation's capital, Islamabad, on Saturday, some people expressed sympathy for Pearl while others resorted to dark humor. Spotting a journalist holding an American passport, one man quipped: "I'll take you to an interview. Do you want an interview with Bin Laden?"
At the passport agency in the capital, an official who requested anonymity said he had seen Pearl on Jan. 21, two days before his disappearance.
"He was standing right at this window," the man said, showing the registry with "Daniel Pearl, correspondent for the Wall Street Journal" typed beside his request for a 15-day extension.
"It's very sad," he said. "I don't understand. If they write e-mails, why can't they trace these people?"
Marshall reported from Karachi and Mohan from Islamabad. Times researcher John Jackson contributed to this report.