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Dead-End Streets In Old City

Sheikh may be extradited, but the Daniel Pearl case itself now looks like being dropped

Dead-End Streets In Old City
Dead-End Streets In Old City
When Mariane Pearl took the flight out to New York last week, she ironically weakened the case against those accused of killing her husband, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Tired of waiting for her husband's body to be recovered, and publicly eschewing sentiments of vengeance and anger, Mariane seemed reconciled to the inability of the Pakistani authorities to hunt down those who had decapitated Pearl, much less gather information from them (or their cohorts) about where his body had been buried.

Mariane's departure, however, had other important legal implications. Since she is the main complainant in the case, and wouldn't in all probability be available to record her statement in the court, the case could well be declared closed. Says Khwaja Naveed, defence lawyer of accused Fahad Naseem, who allegedly sent e-mails containing pictures of Pearl in chains to newspapers worldwide: "Mariane is not likely to return to Pakistan to record her statement in the court and without her statement the case may not proceed." Khwaja also has other reasons to feel optimistic about his client. "There are indications that the prime suspect, Sheikh Omar, may be handed over to the US. If this happens, and the prime accused is not available for the trial, then how can the cases against the other accused proceed?"

The Pearl kidnap has indeed taken a new trajectory, what with Washington reportedly keen to have the British-born Islamic militant, Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh, extradited to the United States. But even this is not merely on account of his involvement in the Pearl case. For, in its formal request on January 9, precisely 14 days before Pearl was kidnapped, the US government had cited Omar's roles in the kidnapping of foreigners in India in 1994 and the World Trade Center attacks of September 11 for seeking his extradition.

Government sources say the US began to mount pressure on Pakistan for extraditing Omar after he surrendered to police and subsequently confessed in the anti-terrorist court in Karachi to having kidnapped Pearl. Experts are already attending to legal formalities, absolutely certain about overcoming any hitches of there being no formal extradition treaty between Pakistan and the US.

The chosen way out may be to invoke the Extradition Treaty that the US and Britain signed in 1931 in what was then undivided India. Since this treaty was among those laws independent Pakistan ratified, government sources argue that the 1931 arrangement consequently has legal validity. In addition, there exists a 1972 Treaty Act, allowing the Pakistan government to extradite criminals to any country where they are accused in criminal cases, provided those countries have a formal extradition treaty with Pakistan. Says a government prosecutor, "If you read the 1931 treaty and the 1972 Act together, then it provides reasonable ground to extradite Omar to the US." The government also claims that it was under this treaty that the supreme court of Pakistan had allowed the extradition of Nasrullah Hinjra, a Pakistani heroin trafficker, to the US in 1994.

What is interesting is that the Pakistan government hadn't followed any legal procedure to extradite Ramzi Mohammad Yusuf, who was an accused in the World Trade Center blasts (of the early '90s), and Aimal Kansi, a suspect in the killing of two CIA agents in 1994. Says a police officer, "In those two cases, the FBI agents just whisked them away with the help of Pakistani intelligence and shifted them to the US." In contrast, the US followed legal procedure to extradite former naval chief, Mansoorul Haq, back to Pakistan.

The US could also face problems from England in securing the extradition of Omar. This is because technically Omar is a British citizen, and British and European Union laws debar handing over of citizens to those countries where they could face capital punishment.

Meanwhile, security has been tightened around Karachi's crime investigation department building, where Omar is arraigned, following death threats to those investigating the Pearl kidnap case. The Sindh police chief denied these threat calls, but some investigators have confirmed to Outlook that they received anonymous calls threatening to "blow up the CID" in case the Pakistan government decides to extradite Omar.

The progress in the kidnap case has so far been tardy. Last week, a witness identified Omar in the court (as part of the identification parade) as the person who under the name of Mohammad Bashir met Pearl before his abduction. During his interrogation, Omar has also admitted to having links with Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. But investigators feel his stories need not be true and definitely can't be taken at face value.

Omar also remains unrepentant. Brimming with confidence and still quite defiant, he insists he hasn't done anything wrong, that he is waging jehad against the Hindus and Jews. He also claims to have not violated any law in India. "I was in Indian jails for years, but why didn't they indict me in court? The fact is that they don't have any case against me," he told investigators.

But the police have managed to gather more information about Pearl in the days preceding the kidnap. For one, it is believed he met many militants through "fixers", that he had been corresponding through e-mail with Bashir (Omar), who had seemingly impressed him. Omar ultimately lured him into his trap through the bait of arranging an interview with Tanzeemul Fuqra chief, Mubarak Shah Gilani.

As reported earlier, Pearl had come down to Pakistan to investigate the connection between Richard Reid, or the "shoe-bomber", and Al Qaeda. His contact in Pakistan was a former intelligence officer, Khalid Khwaja. "It now transpires," say investigators, "that some unidentified man told Pearl in New York to meet Khwaja in Pakistan."

Sources also say Pearl was told about his kidnapping only on January 26, three days after he went missing. The kidnapper took this precaution to ensure their plans didn't boomerang on them. Though Mariane had immediately informed the US consulate about Pearl's disappearance, and despite this information being promptly conveyed to the Karachi police, the officers assumed that the journalist had kept secret his whereabouts for the purpose of his investigation. They even doubted the first e-mail containing Pearl's photos and the message that he had been abducted.

It was only after receiving the second mail that the entire state machinery was activated. The police achieved their first major breakthrough when they tracked down Salman Saqib, Sheikh Adil and Fahad Naseem—the three who had sent the e-mails. Sources say Fahad, a cyber cafe employee, was roped into the kidnap gang through his cousin Salman, a Harkat-ul-Mujahideen activist, who in turn had introduced him to Omar. Sources say Fahad came to know about the kidnapping plan two days before January 23, when Omar told him he needed help to send photos of the person whom they planned to kidnap. He justified the crime saying their victim was a Jew and that he was working against Islam.

The third e-mailer, Sheikh Adil, is a serving constable of the special branch in the Sindh police and was posted at the provincial government secretariat. A staunch supporter of jehadi groups and personally aligned with the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Adil reportedly met Omar during the Afghan jehad under the Taliban. "But he has nothing to do with the case," says Adil's brother Aslam. "Everyone in our family gives donations to these jehadi groups."

The arrest of the three e-mailers led the police to launch a nationwide hunt for Omar.Making no headway, they detained his entire family and mounted pressure on those of them who were in government service. Omar's aunt and her two sons with whom he had stayed before Pearl was kidnapped were also picked up. It was on February 4-5—and not on February 12—that Omar decided to surrender to the Lahore police. Says investigator Manzoor Mughal, "It still remains a mystery why Omar surrendered. Was it because he had already told his accomplice to kill Pearl? The question can only be answered after we nab one of the three Farooquis—Amjad, Qasim and Hasan—who ostensibly played a crucial role in the kidnap."

These three brothers are among the seven other suspects—including one Arab—who are still absconding. The police believe one of them can lead them to the site where Pearl has been buried. The moot question is: is the elusive gang of seven still in Pakistan? Jehadi activists believe they have gone into hiding, either in Afghanistan or in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

Omar's extradition may compel the police to close the case here. However, US ambassador to Pakistan, Wendy Chamberlain, has publicly said that the US will continue to pursue the guilty in the Pearl case. How far it'll succeed is another matter altogether.
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