By: Amir Zia, Associated Press Writer
(AP) A Pakistani judge gave the government more time Tuesday to build a case against the alleged kidnap-slayers of Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl. As he left the court, the chief suspect shouted that “America will be finished soon.”
Two of the four suspects, including alleged mastermind Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, were brought to a Karachi court in an armored personnel carrier accompanied by eight or nine police vehicles. Their heads were covered by scarfs as they entered for a pretrial hearing.
Defense lawyers urged that the suspects be charged and a trial date set or they be released.
But Judge Shabbir Ahmed agreed to a government request for more time to find Pearl’s body, retrieve the murder weapon, complete interrogation, and receive an FBI report on the grisly videotape that confirmed the journalist’s death.
During the closed-door session, the judge ordered Saeed and fellow suspect Sheikh Mohammed Adeel held for another 10 days, according to chief prosecutor Raja Quereshi. Another hearing is expected around March 22.
Defense lawyer Khwaja Naveed said the extension was the last chance for police to finish questioning the suspects. Two other suspects are also in custody.
The United States has also expressed interest in trying the British-born Islamic militant, but Pakistan says he must stand trial here first.
According to chief prosecutor Quereshi, Saeed threatened during the closed-door proceedings that if he were sent to America, he would return here as he did from India — a reference to his release by Indian authorities in December 1999 in exchange for passengers and crew of an Indian Airlines jet hijacked to Afghanistan.
Saeed also warned that if he were killed in a “fake encounter at the behest of America,” Americans would “suffer the consequences,” Quereshi said.
As Saeed was being hustled into an armored personnel carrier for the trip back to jail, he shouted at bystanders: “Sell your dollars because America will be finished soon.”
Pearl, the Journal‘s South Asia correspondent, was abducted Jan. 23 in Karachi on his way to a meeting with Islamic militant contacts. He was looking into possible links between Pakistani extremists and Richard C. Reid, arrested in December on a flight from Paris to Miami with explosives in his shoes.
A few days later, e-mails including pictures of Pearl in captivity were received by American and Pakistani news organizations.
Last month, a videotape received by the U.S. Consulate in Karachi showed Pearl dead. His body has not been found, and several suspects remain at large.
Saeed was arrested before the videotape was received. At his first hearing, he admitted to his role in the kidnapping but later recanted. The statement is inadmissible because it was not made under oath.
The three other suspects were arrested Jan. 30 after the FBI and police traced the e-mails to a laptop belonging to one of them, Fahad Naseem. Naseem confessed and said Saeed told him three days before the kidnapping that he planned to abduct someone who is “anti-Islam and a Jew.”
Defense attorney Naveed complained he had not been allowed access to his clients since their arrest. He also accused the government stalling because of a weak case and intense international pressure to find Pearl’s killers. “The police are fabricating evidence,” Naveed said.
Much of the case appears to hang on the testimony of Naseem and a taxi driver, Nasir Abbas, who told police he saw Pearl shake hands with Saeed and get into a car in front of a Karachi restaurant on the night he disappeared.
U.S. officials confirm they would like to prosecute Saeed, but there is no extradition treaty and the United States has not indicted Saeed in the Pearl case. The two governments are studying ways he could be handed over eventually in accordance with the laws.
Among those still sought is Islamic militant Amjad Hussain Faruqi, who police believe actually held Pearl.