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Pearl Murder Trial Postponed - 2002-04-12

In Pakistan, the trial of four men accused of kidnapping and murdering American journalist Daniel Pearl has been postponed for 10 days. An anti-terrorism court is conducting the trial inside the central prison in the southern city of Karachi because of security reasons. Journalists are not allowed to attend the closed-door proceedings.

At the end of Friday's hearing, prosecution and defense lawyers told reporters the judge adjourned the case until April 22 to give authorities more time to arrest seven other suspects.

Four of the defendants are in custody. They include British-born Islamic militant Ahmed Omar Sheikh who is also known as Sheikh Omar. He is believed to be the mastermind behind the kidnapping plot. On Friday, Sheikh Omar's lawyer quoted him as telling the judge he is innocent of the charges against him.

American reporter Daniel Pearl was the South Asia bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal newspaper. He was abducted in Karachi in January while trying to contact Pakistani militants.

Mr. Pearl's death was confirmed a month later, after the kidnappers released a video tape showing his gruesome murder. Pakistani authorities have yet to find his body.

Chief prosecutor Raja Qureshi says the evidence against the suspects is sufficient to secure a conviction.

"We have circumstantial evidence. We have evidence of experts, we have evidence in terms of confessional statements. I am quite confident the evidence available with the prosecution, in terms of its quality, is of a nature, which could secure conviction."

Prosecutors have charged Sheikh Omar and others with kidnapping and murdering the American reporter.

A formal trial in the case will begin when the judge approves the charges against the suspects. Under Pakistan's anti-terrorism law, the defendants could be sentenced to death, if they are found guilty.