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Pakistan Investigating Claims of US Journalist's Death - 2002-02-02

Authorities in Pakistan say they are trying to determine the fate of an American journalist who was kidnapped by a group that threatened to kill him if their demands were not met. After the deadline set by the group had passed, there were conflicting claims - one that he had been killed, and another demanding ransom for his release. Authorities are trying to verify the authenticity of the claims.

Police have searched more than 200 graveyards in Pakistan's largest city, Karachi, but they have not found Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

Two American cable television networks said Friday they had received an electronic message claiming the reporter had been killed and his body left in a graveyard in Karachi. But U.S. and Pakistani officials are skeptical about the message, citing the absence of any pictures of Mr. Pearl to back the claim.

The American journalist disappeared in Karachi 10-days ago, while trying to contact Islamic militants allegedly linked to terror suspect Osama bin Laden.

A Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman, Aziz Ahmed Khan, told reporters Saturday, investigation into the kidnapping is under way. But he did not give details.

"It is unfortunate that this has happened. But the government of Pakistan is vigilant," he said. " It's doing its best for the recovery of the American journalist. The entire government machinery [is] concentrating on this issue, and we hope that some positive result will come out of it."

A previously unknown group, The National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty, says it is holding the American journalist. In several earlier e-mail messages to Pakistani and U.S. media that included the reporter's pictures, the group threatened to kill him, if the United States does not release Pakistani prisoners from the war on terrorism in Afghanistan.

Officials are also trying to determine the authenticity of a telephone call to the American embassy in Islamabad on Friday, demanding a $2 million dollar ransom for Daniel Pearl. The caller reportedly also demanded the release of the former Taleban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, within 36 hours. Mr. Zaeef is one of hundreds of Taleban and al-Qaida prisoners in U.S. custody.

U.S. officials say they are trying to find Mr. Pearl, but that they will not negotiate with the kidnappers.