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Pearl Trial Begins in Pakistan

Prime suspect Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, a British-born Islamic militant, and co-defendants Salman Saqib, Fahad Naseem, and Sheikh Mohammed Adeel entered their pleas in a heavily-secured session of a special anti-terrorism court, held inside the Karachi Central Jail. If convicted, the four could face the death penalty.

Pearl disappeared from Pakistan Jan. 23 while researching the potential links between Pakistani militants and Richard C. Reid, who was arrested on a Paris-Miami flight for allegedly carrying explosives in his shoes. U.S. diplomats in Pakistan received a videotape on Feb. 21, which confirmed Pearl’s murder. His body has not yet been found.

Alleged ringleader Saeed refused to recognize Pakistan’s “British” secular judicial system and demanded to be tried under Islamic law, defense lawyer Khawaja Naveed Ahmed, who represents two of the Saeed’s co-defendants, said after Monday’s session.

Chief prosecutor Raja Quereshi said the judge quickly rejected that demand, telling Saeed, “You are being tried under the law of the land.”

During Monday’s six-hour proceedings, a Karachi taxi cab driver testified he drove Pearl to the city’s downtown Metropole Hotel the day the reporter disappeared. The driver said Pearl met Saeed there, shook hands, and that both men got into Saeed’s white sedan and drove away.

Lawyers are expected to call several other witnesses, but Pakistani law mandates the trial must conclude within seven days. Court officials have discussed whether to allow Pearl’s widow, Mariane, to testify in a written deposition, but no decision has been made on whether she will be called as a witness.

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