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Pearl's Killer Boasted of Bin Laden Ties

Pakistan: Details of the closed trial emerge as prosecutor describes the words of Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh to interrogators.


KARACHI, Pakistan — Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh, the convicted mastermind in the murder of journalist Daniel Pearl, boasted to Pakistani interrogators that he had ties to Osama bin Laden and said the Al Qaeda leader hosted a celebration for him and two other Islamic militants in the Afghan capital in 2000.

Sheikh told a team of five interrogators from different agencies that Bin Laden hosted an iftar party to mark the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan shortly after he was freed from an Indian jail in December 1999, prosecutor Raja Qureshi said in an interview Monday.

The party also honored Sheikh, his then-leader Maulana Masood Azhar, and Mushtaq Zargat, a Kashmiri militant, Sheikh said. All three men had just been released from Indian prisons in a deal to free hostages on a hijacked Indian jet.

"When he was being interrogated, these were the utterances and admissions made by him, as recorded by the police officers," the prosecutor said. "He was proud of it."

Qureshi said he did not know whether Sheikh was working with Bin Laden's network after the Sept. 11 attacks. But Sheikh is a leader of Azhar's Jaish-e-Mohammed, a militant group fighting Indian rule in the Himalayan region of Kashmir. Authorities suspect the group is linked to Al Qaeda.

Sheikh, 28, a Briton of Pakistani descent who once studied at the London School of Economics, showed only "a poker face" when he was convicted and sentenced to death Monday in a closed courtroom in the city of Hyderabad, Qureshi said. Three other men were also found guilty and given life sentences.

But after Sheikh was led away, his relatives shouted abuse at the prosecutor, who said he receives frequent death threats and is under police guard. And Sheikh issued a thinly veiled threat after the verdict, apparently aimed at Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

"Musharraf should know that the almighty Allah is there, and he can get revenge," Sheikh said in a statement read to reporters in English by his lawyer, Rai Bashir. "We shall see who shall die first, either I or the authorities who have arranged the death sentence for me."

Sheikh added that "now the jihad between Islam and kafirs [non-believers] is going on, and everybody is showing himself, whether he is in favor of Islam or he is in favor of kafirs."

Bashir called the guilty verdict "a judgment just to please Americans--nothing else and nothing more," and said he will appeal.

Judge Syed Ali Ashraf Shah sentenced Sheikh's three accomplices, Salman Saquib, Fahad Naseem and Sheikh Mohammed Adeel, to life in prison, which is a maximum of 25 years in Pakistan. They also plan to appeal.

The Pearl family, in a statement posted on its Web site, said it was "grateful for the tireless efforts" by U.S. and Pakistani authorities "to bring those guilty of Danny's kidnapping and murder to justice."

Pakistani police are still searching for seven other suspects in Pearl's kidnapping-murder, and there are fears here that those still at large may try to carry out more attacks on Westerners in revenge for Monday's verdict.

Defense lawyers have seven days to file an appeal in Sindh province's High Court and later could challenge that court's ruling in Pakistan's Supreme Court. Sheikh's father, a wealthy accountant living in London, angrily claimed his son had been framed.

But Qureshi said he is confident that Sheikh will eventually be hanged. The prosecutor added that he believes higher courts won't allow the appeals to drag on because Sheikh and his accomplices are now convicted terrorists, whom the judge declared a domestic and international threat.

Because the trial was closed to the public and held inside a jail, journalists have relied on briefings from the prosecutor and defense lawyers for details.

The interview with Qureshi, as well as the court's 54-page ruling, provided more evidence of what the judge concluded was Sheikh's plot to kidnap Pearl, who had been investigating alleged "shoe bomber" Richard C. Reid. Reid was arrested in the U.S. in December and charged with trying to set off explosives in his sneakers on a flight from Paris to Miami.

Pearl, who had been South Asia bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal, wanted to interview Sheik Mubarak Ali Shah Gilani, a Muslim cleric who once hosted Reid at his home in Lahore, Qureshi said.

Asif Mahfooz Farooqi, a Pakistani journalist who had assisted Pearl's predecessor from the Journal's South Asia bureau, agreed on Dec. 22, 2001, to help Pearl meet Gilani, the judge wrote in his ruling.

Farooqi testified that he had asked 15 or 16 people and found only one who said he could arrange a meeting with the cleric, the prosecutor said.

Farooqi accompanied Pearl to a meeting Jan. 11, in Room 411 of the Akbar International Hotel in Rawalpindi, a suburb of Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, and that is where the conspiracy to kidnap Pearl was hatched, the judge concluded.

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