By: Pete Yost, Associated Press Writer
(AP) The U.S. government wanted an Islamic extremist extradited from Pakistan at least two months before he was implicated in the slaying of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, Ambassador Wendy Chamberlin said Monday.
The man, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, “is a nasty character,” Chamberlin, the senior U.S. official in Pakistan, said on CBS’ “The Early Show.” “He’s been involved as a suspect in kidnappings and crimes against American citizens for many years.”
Chamberlin said she will raise the extradition issue anew when she meets Tuesday with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Asked whether Saeed could be extradited without destabilizing Musharraf’s government, Chamberlin replied: “I think the Pakistani people and the Pakistani government are equally outraged by the brutality of the murder of Danny Pearl.”
Word of the administration’s diplomatic moves emerged after Newsweek magazine reported that Saeed was secretly indicted last year by a federal grand jury for a foiled 1994 kidnapping.
The charges brought in Washington involved four Western tourists in India, the magazine said. One of the four was an American.
Taken into custody Feb. 5 in the Pearl case, Saeed told interrogators that his group wanted to teach the United States a lesson and Pearl’s murder was just a first step, intelligence officials said in Pakistan.
In the abduction eight years ago, Indian authorities found the victims and imprisoned Saeed and his accomplices, who had been seeking freedom for Islamic extremists. Saeed’s supporters won his release by hijacking an Indian airliner in 1999 and stabbing a passenger to death.
Justice Department officials pressed the National Security Council about extraditing Saeed to the United States, an administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press Sunday. Chamberlin said she raised the subject of extraditing Saeed in late November or early December with the country’s foreign minister.
Pearl was kidnapped on Jan. 23. The next day, FBI Director Robert Mueller and Chamberlin discussed Saeed at a previously scheduled meeting with the Pakistani president. But at that point there was no link between Pearl’s kidnapping and Saeed, the official said. Mueller and Chamberlin asked that Pakistan “provide all assistance” in getting Pearl released.
The United States and Pakistan do not have an extradition treaty.
Sen. Richard Shelby, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said such a treaty should be a priority. Shelby, R-Ala., also said Sunday on CNN’s “Late Edition” that Pakistan might bring the killers to justice there, but “if they’re not going to do the job,” other steps could be necessary.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said bringing Saeed and others to the United States to stand trial is a possibility.
“The United States government may very well want to try to extradite the people involved if possible for the killing of an American, which would seem to me as a non-lawyer to be a reasonable thing,” Rumsfeld said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
Rumsfeld said it would be up to President Bush to decide whether anyone brought here for Pearl’s killing would be tried by a military tribunal rather than in a civilian court.