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RESPONSE TO TERROR

U.S. Reporter Is Seized in Pakistan

Asia: Group holding Wall Street Journal writer wants prisoners in Cuba to be released.

January 28, 2002|BOB DROGIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — A veteran Wall Street Journal reporter who disappeared Wednesday in Pakistan has been kidnapped, the paper announced Sunday, and a previously unknown group claiming to hold him is demanding the release of suspected Pakistani terrorists in U.S. custody at the Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

In e-mail messages sent overnight to the Los Angeles Times and other U.S. and Pakistani media, but not to the Wall Street Journal, the group said it was holding Daniel Pearl, the paper's South Asia bureau chief. It also threatened to kidnap other Americans.

Four color photographs were attached to the e-mail. The first shows a man in a white robe grabbing Pearl's hair with one hand and pointing a black pistol at his head with the other. Pearl is hunched over in the photograph, his hands wrapped in chains.

A second photograph simply shows Pearl hunched over, his hands in chains. The final two show him staring at the camera, holding up the front page of Dawn, Pakistan's largest English-language newspaper. The photo is blurry and the date of the paper is not clear. Pearl appears unshaven but does not display any bruises.

Pearl went alone Wednesday for an arranged meeting with a terrorist source outside the port city of Karachi in southern Pakistan, colleagues said. He was working on a report about radical Islamic groups.

Identifying themselves in the e-mail as the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty, the kidnappers alleged that Pearl is a CIA officer "posing as a journalist." Both the CIA and the Journal denied any link Sunday.

"Although we normally don't discuss whether someone is employed by the agency, I can tell you Danny Pearl does not now nor has he ever worked for the CIA," said Anya Guilsher, a CIA spokeswoman. Since 1977, CIA policy has barred hiring U.S. journalists except in what the agency calls "extraordinary" circumstances.

"He has no connection whatever with the government of the United States," including the CIA, said Steven Goldstein, a spokesman for Dow Jones & Co., which publishes the Journal. "As a private citizen employed by an independent newspaper, neither Mr. Pearl, nor we, can change the policies of the United States or Pakistan."

The "terrorists who have seized Daniel Pearl have made a mistake," said Goldstein, who appealed for his immediate release.

"Nothing can be served by his continued detention," he said.

The kidnappers' group is unknown to U.S. intelligence, but one official said it might be an offshoot of a larger terrorist organization. The e-mail does not cite the potent political and religious grievances usually cited by local terrorists, however, so the group may be new. The Karachi area, where Pearl disappeared, is notorious for kidnapping gangs and political violence.

Pakistani officials speculated that the group is tied to Harkat Moujahedeen, a Pakistani group that is on the U.S. government's list of terrorist organizations. The group has used bombings, assassinations and other attacks in an effort to dislodge India from the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir.

Members of the group have been killed alongside Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters in Afghanistan in recent months. Other members were killed when the Clinton administration fired cruise missiles at an Al Qaeda training camp in eastern Afghanistan in August 1998, after two U.S. embassies in East Africa were bombed.

U.S. and Pakistani law enforcement and intelligence authorities were examining the Hotmail message and the photographs, as well as other evidence, for clues Sunday.

"The U.S. government has assured us they are doing everything they can to effect Danny's rescue," Goldstein said.

Pearl, 38, was born in Princeton, N. J., and is a graduate of Stanford University. He has reported full-time for the Journal since 1990 from Atlanta, Washington, London and Bombay, India. His wife, who was traveling with him in Pakistan, is pregnant with their first child.

Eight European journalists were killed in Afghanistan in November. Five foreign journalists have been reported arrested or detained, but all were released.

The four-paragraph e-mail to The Times and other news organizations has "American CIA officer in our custody" in the subject line, and the text has several misspellings and grammatical errors. The message apparently is repeated in a separate attachment in Urdu, the language of southern Pakistan.

Announcing that Pearl has been "captured," the e-mail adds, "Unfortunately, he is at present being kept in very inhuman circumstances quite similar infact to the way that Pakistanis and nationals of other sovereign countries are being kept in Cuba by the American Army. If the Americans keep our countrymen in better conditions we will better the conditions of Mr. Pearl and all the other Americans that we capture."

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