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Pearl Kidnapping Suspect Arrested

Pakistani authorities said British-born and -educated Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh told them Pearl is still alive.

“During the initial investigation, he said that Pearl is alive and he is in Karachi,” Karachi police chief Tariq Jamil told Reuters.

Sheikh’s arrest in the eastern city of Lahore comes almost three weeks after Pearl disappeared on Jan. 23. Authorities are bringing Sheikh to Karachi, the southern port city where Pearl disappeared, for further questioning.

Police identified Sheikh as a suspect last week and launched an intense manhunt, detaining some of Sheikh’s relatives and former associates in the process.

Jamil said a team of police from the southern Sindh province made the arrest after traveling to eastern Lahore to hunt for Sheikh. He declined to discuss details of the arrest.

Sheikh has reportedly been linked to the organization Jaish-e-Muhammad, which the State Department listed as a terrorist organization in December. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf outlawed the organization following the State Department’s classification.

Sheikh was jailed in India in 1994 for allegedly kidnapping four tourists — three Britons and one American. Authorities have said the kidnapping bore similar characteristics to the Pearl case.

After five years in an Indian prison, Sheikh was freed, along with two other prominent Islamic militants, in a hostage-prisoner trade in 1999. The Indian government allowed Sheikh’s release in exchange for 155 hostages on an Indian Airlines plane hijacked to the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.

More than a dozen people have been arrested in connection with Pearl’s disappearance, but only three have been charged with crimes. The three were said to be involved with e-mailed claims of Pearl’s abduction. They were arraigned today in Karachi and ordered held in custody for two more weeks.

Pearl, the Journal’s South Asia bureau chief, vanished in Karachi on Jan. 23 as he tried to make contact with Islamic radical groups and investigate links between alleged “shoe bomber” Richard Reid and the al-Qaida terror network.