By: Richard Pyle, Associated Press Writer
(AP) Updated at 1:20 p.m. EST
A Wall Street Journal reporter has apparently been taken hostage in Pakistan by a group seeking repatriation of detained Pakistani fighters in Cuba and the release of Afghanistan’s former ambassador to Pakistan.
An e-mail from “The National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty” accused reporter Daniel Pearl of being a CIA officer posing as a journalist, an accusation the newspaper and CIA dismiss.
Pearl, 38, a reporter based in Bombay, India, has been missing since Wednesday, when he went to visit a source near Karachi, Pakistan, for a story about terrorism, The Wall Street Journal reported today.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Monday that U.S. officials have been in contact with authorities in Pakistan “to give whatever help can be given” to obtain Pearl’s release.
“He was a journalist just trying to do his job. This is a serious matter, and it is being pursued by the United States government,” Fleischer said. “It is a reminder of the risks that journalists take, sadly, all around the world in pursuit of journalism.”
In Pakistan, police sources speaking on condition they not be identified told The Associated Press they believe Pearl was kidnapped by Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, which has close ties to al-Qaida and is on the U.S. government’s terrorist organizations list.
“In the interest of humanity, the terrorists should release Mr. Pearl immediately,” Steven Goldstein, a vice president of Dow Jones & Co., the Journal‘s owner, said.
Goldstein said the newspaper “has not had any direct contact with the group” that claimed to hold Pearl, and that their missing reporter “has no connection whatever with the government of the United States, including its Central Intelligence Agency.”
The CIA also denied that Pearl worked for the agency. “Although we don’t normally discuss such matters, Daniel Pearl does not now nor has he ever worked for the CIA,” said agency spokeswoman Anya Guilsher.
Guilsher would not comment on the group named in the e-mail or its demands.
The e-mail sent to various U.S. newspapers was accompanied by four photographs purporting to show Pearl chained in captivity. One showed him hunched over with a gun to his head.
The group demanded that Pakistani nationals detained by the U.S. government be allowed access to their lawyers and families, that Afghanistan’s former ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, be handed over to Pakistan, and that F-16 fighter jets purchased by Pakistan in the 1980s be released.
The request for the aircraft was apparently sent as an attachment within the e-mail and written in Urdu. The planes were never delivered because of U.S. sanctions related to Islamabad’s nuclear-weapons program.
The e-mail was sent using Microsoft’s free e-mail service, Hotmail, with the user name “kidnapperguy,” The New York Times reported today.
The Journal quoted the e-mail as saying Pearl was being held “in very inhuman circumstances quite similar in fact to the way Pakistanis and nationals of other sovereign countries are being kept in Cuba by the American army. If the Americans keep our countrymen in better conditions we will better the conditions of Mr. Pearl and all the other Americans that we capture.”
The e-mail demanded that Pakistanis being held at the camp in Cuba be returned to Pakistan and tried in Pakistani court.
It also called for returning Zaeef to Pakistani custody. Zaeef, who was the Taliban’s most-recognized spokesman, was deported from Pakistan to Afghanistan in early January and turned over to U.S. military forces. He is one of the highest-ranking Taliban officials in U.S. custody.
Goldstein said the e-mail had been sent to “many different people” at The New York Times and The Washington Post, but not to the Journal. The newspaper said it received the e-mail Sunday from a reporter at another paper. The Los Angeles Times also received it.
New York Times spokeswoman Catherine Mathis said the e-mail was addressed to nine of the newspaper’s generic e-mail addresses but not to any individuals. The e-mail recipients appeared to be chosen at random from the newspapers’ Web sites.
Andy Mosher, deputy foreign editor at The Washington Post, said six individuals there received copies of the e-mail, including a reporter in Jakarta, Indonesia.
The Journal said Pearl had been a staff reporter for 12 years, in Atlanta, Washington, and London, and has been its South Asia bureau chief since December 2000. He was in Karachi to interview leaders of radical Islamic groups and was accompanied by his wife, Mariane, who is expecting the couple’s first child in May, the newspaper said.
The Journal said the kidnappers had made a mistaken assumption. “As a private citizen employed by an independent newspaper, neither Mr. Pearl, nor we, can change the policies of the United States or Pakistan,” Goldstein said.