Pakistan To Try Pearl Suspect First

By: Afzal Nadeem, Associated Press Writer

(AP) A Pakistani court on Tuesday set aside a petition to prevent the handover of the key suspect in the slaying of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl to the United States, after the government promised not to do so in violation of the law, the prosecutor said.

The government promise appeared to leave the door open to handing over British-born Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh through means in accordance with Pakistani law.

Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul Rasheed Khan said the law requires defendants facing charges in Pakistan to be tried at home first before being transferred to any other country.

In the capital, Islamabad, President Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s spokesman said the United States had been formally notified of Pakistan’s decision to try Saeed here first. The spokesman, Maj. Gen. Rashid Quereshi, said the notification had been conveyed to the U.S. Embassy, which declined to comment.

With no extradition treaty between the United States and Pakistan, officials have been trying to find a legal way to hand over Saeed, believed to have planned the kidnapping of Pearl, South Asia bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal. The government here has made no unequivocal pledge to do so.

Pearl was kidnapped here Jan. 23 while researching links between Pakistani extremists and Richard C. Reid, who was arrested in December on a Paris-Miami flight he allegedly boarded with explosives in his sneakers. A tape received Feb. 22 showed Pearl dead. His body has not been found.

Sadia, the wife of Saeed, asked the court Friday to block moves to hand over her husband. On Tuesday, the government lawyers assured the court that Saeed won’t be handed over to any “foreign authority or officer” in violation to the law, chief prosecutor Raja Quereshi said.

The court set aside the petition after Sadia’s lawyer expressed satisfaction over the government’s assurance, said Quereshi, who is no relation to the government spokesman.

Pakistan is under pressure from the United States to hand over Saeed, who was indicted by the U.S. authorities for the 1994 kidnapping of another American in India. Khan, of the Interior Ministry, said that so far, Pakistan has not received a formal extradition request from the United States.

Saeed faces kidnapping and murder charges in Pakistan but simply one kidnap charge in the United States. He has not been indicted in the United States for the Pearl kidnap-slaying.

Saeed and three accomplices are expected to go on trial in the Pearl case March 11. However, evidence against Saeed appears weak.

The government’s case appears based primarily on the statement of accomplice Fahad Naseem, who says Saeed told him of plans to kidnap someone who was “anti-Islam and a Jew.”

Saeed admitted his role in the kidnapping in a court appearance Feb. 14 but the comments were not made under oath and are considered inadmissible.

Police are looking for several other suspects in the case, including Amjad Hussain Faruqi, the man police believe actually abducted and held Pearl.

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