By: Afzal Nadeem, Associated Press Writer
(AP) The trial of Muslim militants charged in the kidnap-slaying of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl will move to the southern city of Hyderabad because the prosecution said it feared a terrorist attack in Karachi, a high court said Tuesday.
A new judge, Ali Ashraf Shah, will replace Judge Abdul Ghafoor Memon, the Sindh provincial high court decided.
The trial, suspended since last Thursday after the prosecution complained about the judge and security shortcomings in the makeshift courtroom in Karachi Central Jail, will resume Friday in a similar facility in the Hyderabad jail, officials said. Hyderabad is 75 miles east of Karachi.
Chief Prosecutor Raja Quereshi said he told the high court that the government had received reports that supporters of chief defendant Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh were planning to blow up the Karachi Jail in an effort to free him and the three other defendants.
“I also said the Karachi Jail security was inappropriate,” Quereshi said, and added that he had given the court intelligence reports, but declined to elaborate on their contents.
Quereshi also said Saeed, a British-born Islamic militant, and other defendants had threatened him during the trial, but that Memon failed to control them.
Khawaja Naveed said he and other defense lawyers had no objection to moving the trial, but they said they thought Memon had been fair. “The prosecution were unhappy because he wasn’t listening to them,” said Naveed.
The trial of Saeed and three others accused in the Jan. 23 kidnapping and subsequent slaying of Pearl began April 22.
The four defendants have pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, kidnapping, and terrorism. They face the death penalty if convicted.
Reporters are barred from attending the trial, but lawyers and family members of the accused are allowed to sit in the courtroom.
Pearl disappeared in Karachi in January while researching links between Pakistan’s militants and Richard C. Reid, the man arrested in December on a Paris-Miami flight with explosives in his shoes.
Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, is the base of a number of militant Muslim organizations.
A previously unknown group — the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty — sent e-mails to the newspaper in January revealing it had kidnapped Pearl.
A videotape received Feb. 21 by U.S. diplomats in Karachi confirmed that Pearl, 38, was dead. His body has not been found.