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Officer to Testify in Pearl Trial

April 23, 2002

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KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) _ Prosecutors were preparing to call a police officer to the stand Tuesday to testify that he heard a British-born Islamic militant admit his role in the kidnap-slaying of reporter Daniel Pearl.

The second day of testimony in the trial of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and three others began just after 10 a.m. inside a makeshift courtroom in the Karachi Central Jail. Chief prosecutor Raja Quereshi was expected to call up to five witnesses, including Karachi police officer Rao Aslam, police sources said.

Quereshi was not available for comment on his way into the courtroom.

Aslam was standing next to Saeed during a Feb. 14 hearing when the officer said he heard Saeed admitting his role in the kidnapping. Saeed recanted the statement, which was not made under oath, and it was unclear whether Judge Abdul Ghafoor Memon would allow the police officer’s testimony. Memon replaced Judge Arshad Noor Khan as the trial judge on Friday because Khan was also present at the Feb. 14 hearing.

On Monday, Quereshi began the trial by questioning Nasir Abbas, a taxi driver considered to be key to the government’s case and the only witness called in the opening day of testimony. Abbas testified he saw Saeed, 28, drive off with Pearl the day the reporter vanished, according to Quereshi and a defense attorney.

The proceedings are closed to journalists and the public.

Pearl, the Wall Street Journal’s South Asia correspondent, disappeared Jan. 23 while supposedly researching links between Pakistani militants and Richard C. Reid, the man arrested in December on a Paris-Miami flight with explosives in his shoes.

A previously unknown group called the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty sent e-mails a few days later announcing Pearl’s kidnapping and showing pictures of him in captivity.

A videotape received by U.S. diplomats in Pakistan on Feb. 21 confirmed Pearl, 38, was dead. His body has not been found.

U.S. investigators traced the e-mails to one of the defendants, Fahad Naseem, who in turn identified Saeed as the mastermind, police said. Salman Saqib and Sheikh Mohammed Adeel, a former policeman, are also standing trial.

All four have pleaded innocent to charges of murder, kidnapping and terrorism. They face the death penalty if convicted.

Seven other men are still being sought in the killing.

Saeed, who joined Islamic extremist movements after traveling to the Balkans about 10 years ago, was jailed once before after being arrested in 1994 for kidnapping Westerners.

He was freed in December 1999 along with two other Islamic militants in exchange for the passengers and crew of an Indian Airlines jet that was hijacked to Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Update hourly