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Pearl Murder Strengthens Pakistan's Anti-Extremism Crackdown - 2002-02-22

News of the killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan broke just as the country prepares to celebrate a major Islamic holiday. The murder is expected to strengthen the Pakistani government's resolve to crack down on Islamic militants.

The killers of Daniel Pearl chose to release the videotape of the reporter's murder on the eve of Eid al-Azha, an Islamic feast dedicated to forgiveness and reconciliation.

As Pakistanis prepared to celebrate the feast in which animals are killed to mark the willingness of the prophet Abraham to sacrifice his own son - a grisly videotape was delivered to authorities showing Mr. Pearl's throat being cut.

Political analyst and former prime ministerial advisor Hussain Haqqani discounts any ritualistic aspects to Mr. Pearl's slaying. But he says the killers are absolutely ruthless nevertheless.

"I think that the message here is that these people are very brutal and that they are willing to go as far as slaughtering a human being," says Mr. Haqqani.

President Pervez Musharraf issued a statement saying that the murder would not deter his government from fighting terrorism. In a more sharply worded statement, the Foreign Office called the murder "a crime against Pakistan and an outrage against the cherished values of our society." It labeled the killers "dangerous criminals devoid of all humanity."

Mr. Pearl was abducted one month ago while investigating the murky world of Pakistan's Islamic extremists. Soon after he disappeared, his abductors sent two e-mails listing demands and accusing Mr. Pearl of links to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, allegations that have been vigorously denied. After that there was only silence. Pakistani authorities continued to voice belief that he was still alive, but there was no evidence presented to back that up.

Riffat Hussain, a professor of International Studies at Qaid-I-Azam University in Islamabad, says the killers' message is clear: stay away.

"I think that the savagery that we saw and the real brutality of the manner in which he was murdered, to me, actually, the message is being aimed at the journalistic community, which is investigating some of these links," he says. "The message is, I think, 'back off, don't come too close to us, don't keep an eye on us, don't investigate us too much because this thing can happen to you.' "

Analysts believe that the abduction of Daniel Pearl was in retaliation for President Musharraf's pledge to crack down on Islamic extremists.

It is a difficult issue for the president to tackle because elements in Pakistan's police and intelligence agencies have long supported Islamic fighters in Afghanistan and Kashmir. They view efforts to rein in the extremists as part of an attempt to secularize an Islamic society.

But Professor Hussain says the Pearl killing will harden Mr. Musharraf's stance.

"My own feeling is that the Musharraf government would use this news only to further steel and strengthen its resolve to fight domestic terrorism, and particularly those outfits which might be responsible for carrying out his killing," he says.

Mr. Musharraf ordered police to apprehend each and every one of the gang involved in Mr. Pearl's death. Four people have already been arrested in the case, and police say they are actively seeking other suspects.