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Conflicting Reports on Missing Reporter’s Condition

BY Admin  February 1, 2002 at 12:00 PM EDT

A caller claiming to represent Pearl’s kidnappers demanded a ransom money, while an e-mail to news organizations said Pearl has already been executed.

Pakistani police confirmed the caller contacted the U.S. consulate in Karachi, the city where Pearl went missing over a week ago.

Tariq Jamil, a Karachi police official, told Reuters the group demanded $2 million and the release of former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, who is now in U.S. custody, within 36 hours. Zaeef is one of the more senior Taliban leaders currently in American hands.

The U.S. embassy in Pakistan would not comment on the demands.

Meanwhile, CNN reports an e-mail, also purportedly from Pearl’s kidnappers, says the reporter has already been killed. The e-mail says the kidnappers are “thirsty for the blood of another American.”

The Justice Dept. and other government agencies say they have seen the e-mail, but officals told the Associated Press there’s no independent confirmation on Pearl’s status or the e-mail’s authenticity.

A Wall Street Journal spokesman told reporters, “We have seen the reports and we remain hopeful that they are not true.”

A group calling itself the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty and claiming to have captured Pearl has purportedly sent several e-mails to news organizations on his status.

The first message, sent Monday said

said in an e-mail sent earlier this week it had captured Pearl. The group also claimed Pearl was a CIA agent and attached pictures to the e-mail of him in shackles in one instance and with a gun to his head in another.

In today’s message, the kidnappers said they had determined Pearl did not work for the CIA, but “in fact he is working for Mossad,” the Israeli intelligence agency, CNN reported.

“Therefore we will execute him within 24 hours unless America fulfills our demands,” the e-mail read. “We apologize to his family for the worry caused and we will send them food packages” as the U.S. has done in Afghanistan.

The first e-mail demanded the U.S. free Pakistani nationals accused of working with the al-Qaida terrorist network. Those prisoners are currently being held at the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

An Urdu-language attachment to that first message called for the U.S. to turn over F-16 fighter jets Pakistan purchased in the 1980s, the Journal reported Monday. The U.S. never delivered the jets because of sanctions it set in response to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program.

CNN broadcast new pictures of Pearl, similar to the first batch, that they said were attached to today’s message.

The new e-mail also said “all Amreekan journalists [sic]” must leave Pakistan within three days, warning “anyone remaining will be targeted.”

Earlier today, Journal Managing Editor Paul Steiger sent a message to the address from which the e-mails purportedly came, saying that holding Pearl would not get the kidnappers’ demands met. The Journal published his letter on its Web site.

“Danny Pearl has no ability to change the policies of the U.S. Government or the Government of Pakistan. Nor do I,” Steiger wrote. “Therefore, I would ask that you release Danny so that he may return home safe to his wife and soon-to-be-born child.”

A CIA spokeswoman on Monday denied Pearl had ever worked for her organization.

Pearl, the Journal’s South Asia bureau chief, has worked for the newspaper for 12 years.

Suspect arrested

In Pakistan, officials said they had arrested a Muslim cleric they said is their prime suspect in Pearl’s disappearance.

Pearl had been trying to arrange an interview with the cleric, identified as Sheik Mubarak Ali Gilani, before he disappeared a week ago. Officials did not give details on Gilani’s capture.

Gilani is the head of a little-known sect called Tanzimul Fuqra, or Organization of the Mystics, The New York Times reported.

According to the Associated Press, police searched Gilani’s homes in the cities of Lahore and Rawalpindi, taking some 12 of his relatives into custody in an attempt to flush Gilani out.

A deceitful trail

Information also surfaced today in The New York Times and The Washington Post detailing the scheme the kidnappers used to kidnap Pearl.

Pearl was last seen in Karachi on Wednesday investigating alleged ties between Pakistani militant groups and Richard Reid, the man U.S. officials say tried to blow up an American airliner with explosives contained in his shoes.

The newspapers reported Pearl had set up an interview with a supposed associate of Gilani’s. Pearl had also been trying to trace e-mails Reid received from Internet cafes in Karachi.

Pearl reportedly met with a man claiming to to be a representative of Harkat ul-Mujaheddin, a Pakistan-based Islamic militant group the U.S. put on its list of known terrorist organizations in wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. Police said Pearl and the local journalists who set up this and other meetings in Karachi may have been tricked and Pearl may have consequently walked into an ambush, the Post reported.