By: Sarfraz Ahmed, Associated Press Writer
(AP) The trial of four suspects in the kidnap-slaying of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl resumed Monday with a defense lawyer cross-examining an investigative magistrate who took their statements shortly after they were arrested.
The magistrate presided at a February court appearance during which the chief defendant, British-born Islamic militant Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, admitted involvement in Pearl’s kidnapping. Saeed, who was not under oath at the time, later recanted.
Saeed and the other defendants face the death penalty if convicted. They have pleaded not guilty to charges of kidnapping, murder, and terrorism in the abduction and killing of Pearl, who disappeared in the Pakistani city of Karachi in January while researching Islamic militants.
A previously unknown group — the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty — sent e-mails revealing it had kidnapped Pearl, 38, and a videotape received Feb. 21 by U.S. diplomats in Karachi confirmed he was dead. His body has not been found.
The trial began April 22 in Karachi, a port city of 14 million that is plagued by violence. It was moved to Hyderabad, a smaller city in Sindh province, at the request of prosecutors who cited security concerns. The defense opposed the change of venue.
Police sharpshooters took their positions on rooftops near the Hyderabad jail Monday. Witnesses and lawyers for both sides arrived at the court in a convoy of police vehicles and buses carrying special security guards. The trial is closed to the public and the media.
With chief prosecutor Raja Quereshi accused of blasphemy and Islamic militants enraged by Pakistan’s support for the U.S.-led coalition’s war on terror in neighboring Afghanistan, security surrounding the trial of the four alleged Muslim militants is intense.
Defense lawyer Rai Bashir last week accused Quereshi of committing blasphemy, saying the prosecutor made statements derogatory to Islam. In the past in Pakistan, Islamic militants have attacked and killed people accused of blasphemy.