By: Ted Bridis, Associated Press Writer
(AP) A federal grand jury indicted a Muslim extremist Thursday in the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. The charges carry the death penalty.
Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who is in custody in Pakistan, was charged with hostage-taking and conspiracy to commit hostage-taking, resulting in the death of Pearl.
Saeed “methodically set a death trap for Daniel Pearl, lured him into it with lies, and savagely ended his life,” Attorney General John Ashcroft said in announcing the indictment returned in New Jersey.
Authorities also unsealed an indictment that had secretly charged Saeed last year in a 1994 kidnapping of an American in India.
Pearl was kidnapped in January while pursuing a story in Pakistan related to Islamic fundamentalism. A gruesome videotape made by his captors surfaced after his death.
Pearl leaves behind a widow who is about to give birth to their first child.
“The U.S. has not forsaken your husband nor the values he embodied and cherished,” Ashcroft said, addressing comments to Pearl’s widow. “The story he died trying to tell will be told, and justice will be done.”
The indictment in the Pearl case alleged Saeed trained at Afghan military camps, and also fought with Taliban and al-Qaida fighters last September and October as the war in Afghanistan was beginning.
The kidnapping plot was hatched in January and was designed “to take hostage a journalist from a U.S newspaper in order to affect U.S. government policies,” the indictment charged.
Asked when Saeed might be brought to the United States, the attorney general said “we will be working with Pakistani authorities” on his extradition. Pakistani authorities also are interested in prosecuting Saeed. The decision to seek an indictment in New Jersey capped weeks of discussions between the Justice and State departments.
Ashcroft said agents were also pursuing others believed to be involved in the kidnapping.
“We are signaling our clear interest in trying him on these charges and in bringing him to justice in the United States,” Ashcroft said in explaining why the indictment was brought Thursday. He predicted the prosecution would send a message to terrorists who he said despised and feared Americans’ freedom. “Where freedom is feared, men and women like Daniel Pearl will always be hunted, but where freedom is cherished they will be forever defended,” he said.
The indictment by a federal grand jury in Trenton, N.J., said Saaed caused e-mail messages to be sent under the name Chaudrey Bashir to Pearl’s Wall Street Journal e-mail address between Jan. 19 and Jan. 23.
Officials said the charges were brought in New Jersey because the e-mail messages that set up the kidnapping were routed through the Journal‘s e-mail system in South Brunswick, N.J.
Saeed and others “did knowingly and willfully seize, detain and threaten to kill, injure and continue to detain Daniel Pearl, a United States national, in order to compel the United States government to do and abstain from doing certain acts,” the indictment charged.
The older indictment unsealed Thursday charged Saeed with conspiracy to commit hostage-taking, hostage-taking, and aiding and abetting in connection with the 1994 kidnapping of Bela Nuss in India. Nuss was held for 12 days before being rescued.
The charges against Saeed in that matter carry a maximum of life in prison.