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2 Victories--No Shots Fired

July 16, 2002

The judicial systems of Pakistan and the United States both scored successes Monday with the convictions of four men in the murder of journalist Daniel Pearl and the guilty plea of "American jihadi" John Walker Lindh. Both cases loom large because public victories in cases related to the Sept. 11 terrorism have been scant.

The trial of the four found guilty of kidnapping and murdering Pearl in Pakistan was anything but ordinary. It was held at a closed anti-terrorist court, about 100 miles from Karachi, the capital, under extreme security.

Inside the court too there was tension. Two judges had to be replaced, one because he had heard the chief suspect, British-born Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh, admitting his involvement, the other because he couldn't control the unruly courtroom. In the end, the trial was peaceful right through the sentencing: execution for Sheikh and life terms for his co- defendants, which in Pakistan means a maximum of 25 years in prison.

In February, when Sheikh was arrested, the United States asked for his extradition. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf denied the request, asserting that Islamic extremists should witness a Pakistani court trying and punishing those guilty of the crime. The message has been sent, though as a statement from Pearl's family noted, other likely accomplices in the murder are still to be caught. In addition, the possible involvement of Pakistan's own intelligence services in the case is yet to be investigated.

The defendants said they would appeal, and one issued a naked threat. "We shall see who shall die first, either I or the authorities who have arranged the death sentence for me," Sheikh declared in a statement read by his lawyer. Pakistani authorities should act speedily on the expected appeals to narrow the window for unrest. They should also allow U.S. authorities to question Sheikh, which Pakistan has refused to do so far.

In Virginia, where Lindh surprisingly pleaded guilty Monday to aiding the Taliban, prosecutors emphasized his agreement to cooperate "fully, truthfully and completely" in the investigation of terrorism. Lindh, now facing a maximum of 20 years in prison, escaped a possible life sentence. The government got to protect its sources and evidence.

Lindh, 21, who grew up in Marin County, was an instant pariah after his capture in Afghanistan last year. Although his family has done all it can to project an image of him as merely a misguided youth, Lindh acknowledged in court: "I provided my services as a soldier to the Taliban" last year, carried a rifle and hand grenades, and "did so knowingly and willingly."

Lindh's parents have their son alive. Pearl's family has only the foundation they have established in his name. One of its projects will be to translate into Urdu some of Pearl's stories for broadcast on Pakistani radio, to show who Pearl was in his own words.

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