By: Afzal Nadeem, Associated Press Writer
(AP) An al-Qaida militant arrested with alleged Sept. 11 organizer Ramzi Binalshibh has been identified as one of the killers of Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl, a senior police official said Tuesday.
If true, this would be the first evidence that al-Qaida may have been involved in Pearl’s abduction and killing.
The identification was made by a Pakistani held but not charged in the kidnap-slaying of the newspaper’s South Asian correspondent, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
According to the official, the Pakistani, Fazal Karim, was taken to an intelligence agency safe house where 10 suspects, including Binalshibh, were held. Most of them were Yemenis, officials have said.
The official refused to identify Pearl’s alleged killer by name but said he was not among the five people, including Binalshibh, who were handed over to U.S. authorities Monday and flown out of the country. He said the man was believed to be a Yemeni.
Pearl was kidnapped in January while investigating links between Pakistani militants and Richard C. Reid, who was arrested in December on a flight from Paris to Miami with explosives in his shoes. His dismembered body was found in May in a shallow grave in Karachi. Police officials have said they were led to the grave by Karim and two others.
It was unclear what impact the revelation would have on the government’s case against four Pakistani militants who were convicted of Pearl’s abduction in July. British-born Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh was sentenced to death by hanging and the others received life sentences. All have appealed.
Pearl’s body was found after the trial of the four had already begun. The government has never charged Karim or the two others or officially confirmed they are being held.
However, police officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press last month that the three men gave them detailed accounts of Pearl’s days in captivity. They said a group of Arabs believed to be Yemenis killed Pearl three days after he tried to escape.
The Yemenis were not brought into the equation until after the trial. According to Karim, the Yemenis did the killing.
In Karachi, meanwhile, President Pervez Musharraf claimed the arrest of Binalshibh and the others shows that security forces have broken the back of terrorist networks in Pakistan. The suspects were arrested in two raids last week in this port city, which has long been suspected as a hide-out for al-Qaida and Taliban figures who fled Afghanistan following the collapse of Taliban rule there.
“The recent action taken by the law enforcement agencies against terrorist networks, especially al-Qaida, have improved the law-and-order situation in Pakistan,” Musharraf said. “The police, the (paramilitary) Rangers, and the intelligence agencies have broken the terrorist network.”
The last major terrorist incident in Pakistan took place last month when three gunmen attacked a Presbyterian hospital compound in Taxila near Islamabad. Five people including one attacker died.
Since then, however, police have announced a series of arrests of Islamic militants believed linked to attacks on Christian and Western interests in Pakistan.
They include suspects accused of bombing the U.S. Consulate in Karachi in June, plotting to kill Musharraf in April, and of planning attacks on Western fast-food outlets in Karachi.
Musharraf declined to talk about the handover of Binalshibh and the others. Pakistani officials said they were no longer in the country but would not disclose their final destination.
Those handed over to U.S. custody Monday also included Umar al-Gharib, a brother of al-Qaida leader Tawfiq Attash Khallad, according to a U.S. defense official in Washington who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Khallad is thought to be one of the masterminds of the deadly October 2000 bombing in Yemen of the USS Cole as it refueled in the port of Aden. Though not a leader in al-Qaida, al-Gharib may have valuable information nonetheless, the official said.