Prosecutors in Pakistan have formally charged four Islamic militants with kidnapping and murdering American journalist Daniel Pearl.
The four suspects were brought to an anti-terrorism court in Karachi under tight security, with hundreds of police surrounding the area. The defendants include alleged mastermind of the kidnapping plot, Ahmed Omar Sheikh, the British-born Islamic militant best known as Sheikh Omar.
Chief Prosecutor Raja Qureshi presented the charges before the judge. He says these charges carry a normal death penalty.
"We have filed the prosecution evidence in the case of the prosecution, and now the court has to examine what the prosecution proposes to produce on record, where after a charge will be framed by the court," said Mr. Qureshi.
Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was abducted in Karachi on January 23 while he was investigating links between Pakistani militants and terror mastermind Osama bin Laden. His death was confirmed last month, after his kidnappers released a video tape showing his gruesome murder. Mr. Pearl's body has never been found.
Pakistan's Chief Prosecutor Qureshi says that the court in Karachi is scheduled to convene again on March 29, when it will decide whether there is enough evidence to indict the four suspects and begin a formal trial.
"The material which the prosecution proposes to bring on record is the circumstantial evidence, evidence in relation to the kidnapping of the deceased and the video cassette," he explained, "which reflects the horrifying pictures of the deceased being slaughtered."
Mr. Qureshi says that seven other people named as co-conspirators in the case remain at large.
U.S. federal agents are helping Pakistani investigators in the Pearl case. Washington is also is seeking extradition of the accused leader of the kidnapping, Sheikh Omar, who has been indicted in the United States. The Pakistani government says it will consider any the U.S. extradition request only after completing its own judicial process in Pearl case.
Pakistan has earned the hostility of Islamic militants at home by supporting the U.S.-led war on terrorism in Afghanistan, and by cracking down on hardline religious extremists in the country. Mr. Pearl's kidnapping is widely seen as a reaction to the policy of the government of President Pervez Musharraf.