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Threats By Pearl Defendants Complicating Murder Trial - 2002-04-25

In Pakistan, prosecutors have requested a new judge in the trial of four Islamic militants accused of kidnapping and murdering American reporter Daniel Pearl. The high-profile trial, which began Monday, is to be completed in seven days under the country's anti-terrorism law. But the process may now take longer because of the latest development.

Chief prosecutor Raja Qureshi says that since the start of the trial on Monday, the accused in the Pearl case have been making threatening gestures at witnesses and the prosecution team. He says his team is seeking the replacement of the judge Abdul Ghafoor Memon because he has failed to control the accused. Mr. Memon is the second judge assigned to the Pearl case.

"The Advocate General was threatened by the accused persons," he said. "The prosecution witness, Jameel Yousaf, was threatened and abused by the accused persons. And there was no orderly conduct and the proceedings were not being regulated and the threats being extended by accused persons were very openly and intimidating."

Mr. Qureshi says a provincial court in the southern city of Karachi is to consider the prosecution petition against the judge.

A defense lawyer, Khwaja Naveed, says his team will oppose the move as they have full faith in the judge. He is quoted as saying the prosecution has filed the petition to try to get a judge of their choice and to get a desirable ruling in the Pearl case.

Earlier, the trial was postponed until Friday because of a nationwide strike called by lawyers to protest President Pervez Musharraf's decision to hold a national referendum to extend his rule.

Four men, including British-born Muslim militant, Ahmed Omar Sheikh, are being tried in a make-shift court within the walls of Karachi's central prison for security reasons. All four have pleaded not guilty to terrorism, kidnapping and murder charges, which carry the death penalty.

U.S. reporter Daniel Pearl was abducted in Karachi in January while trying to contact Pakistani militants allegedly linked to international terror network, Al-Qaida. The American reporter's death was confirmed a month later in a video showing his gruesome murder. His body has yet to be found.