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RESPONSE TO TERROR

Threat on Reporter's Life

Pakistan: Second e-mail warns that apparent captors will target other U.S. journalists. It accuses seized writer of spying for Israel.

January 31, 2002|BOB DROGIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — A group claiming to have abducted a Wall Street Journal reporter in Pakistan threatened Wednesday to kill him within 24 hours and then target other U.S. journalists if they don't leave Pakistan in three days.

An e-mail message from the purported kidnappers to the Los Angeles Times and other U.S. and Pakistani news organizations included two new photographs of journalist Daniel Pearl--one with a pistol aimed at his head, the other showing his hands in chains. The message had a far more menacing tone than a weekend e-mail that first served notice that Pearl had been kidnapped.

The new e-mail message says the group had wrongly accused Pearl of spying for the CIA. Instead, the group claimed, Pearl works for the Mossad, Israel's intelligence service.

"Therefore we will execute him within 24 hours unless amreeka fifils our demands," the group wrote, using odd misspellings, grammar and syntax throughout the five-paragraph statement.

The group apologized in advance to Pearl's family but added a cruel promise--to send them food packages "just as amreeka apologized for collateral damage and dropped food packets on the thousands of people" killed during the war in Afghanistan.

"We hope Mr danny's family will be grateful for the food packets that we send them just as the amreekan public expected the afgans to be grateful for the food packets its airforce was dropping on them," the group wrote.

The e-mail message also charged that "many" U.S. journalists in Pakistan work as spies. "Therefore we give all amreekan journlists 3 days to get out of pakstan. anyone remaining after that will be targetted."

Hundreds of U.S. and other journalists have flocked to Pakistan in recent months to cover the war on terrorism, but it wasn't clear how many were still there Wednesday.

The group, which identified itself as the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty, also warned that if Pakistan's government doesn't ensure the rights of its citizens "in custody the world over," then other Pakistanis "are ready to take steps." Americans, it added, "are sitting ducks."

The Israeli Embassy in Washington firmly denied that Pearl had any link to the Mossad or the Israeli government. "It's total rubbish," said Mark Regev, spokesman at the embassy.

The Journal said in a statement that Pearl, 38, was born in the United States, is a U.S. citizen and has never worked for any U.S. agency or foreign government. He joined the Journal in 1990 and is the paper's South Asia bureau chief.

"He is a reporter for us--nothing more or less," the Journal said. "He cannot affect the policy of the U.S. or Pakistani government. Nor can we."

The paper pleaded for Pearl's immediate release, saying his writing has "always been respectful of Islam" and the people of Pakistan.

Others also called for his safe return. In Los Angeles, former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali released a statement saying, "It is my most sincere prayer" that Pearl be allowed to return safely to his family.

Pearl disappeared Jan. 23 in the violence-plagued port city of Karachi, in southern Pakistan. Colleagues said he was working on a story about ties between Pakistani Islamic groups and alleged "shoe bomber" Richard C. Reid, who has been charged with trying to detonate explosives aboard a flight last month from Paris to Miami.

Pearl had gone to a Karachi restaurant to meet an intermediary who apparently had promised to introduce him to members of an extremist Islamic group. The meeting, however, was part of an elaborate trap, and Pearl didn't return.

Pakistani police have told reporters that the kidnappers used false identities and hard-to-trace e-mail accounts to hide their tracks.

Pakistani police carried out raids in several cities Wednesday in connection with the investigation, according to the Associated Press. Among those detained was Sheik Mubarak Ali Shah Gilani, head of a militant Islamic group. Police said Pearl was seeking to meet Gilani when he disappeared. A Wall Street Journal spokesman declined to comment.

U.S. officials say the photographs of Pearl appear genuine and show no evidence of computer manipulation. The photos e-mailed Saturday included one of Pearl holding a Thursday edition of a Karachi newspaper. The new photos show him in the same clothes, before the same backdrop, and it isn't clear whether they were taken later than the first photos.

Intelligence and law enforcement agencies in the United States rushed agents and resources to assist Pakistan in the search. But investigators in both countries said they had never heard of the group and have yet to identify its members.

Although some officials speculate that the group is an offshoot of a larger terrorist organization, others say it may represent a new wing that has adopted terrorist tactics to pursue a separate, more nationalist agenda.

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