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Daniel Pearl Investigation Feared Stalled - 2002-02-18

Almost four weeks have passed, but authorities in Pakistan have found no trace of kidnapped American journalist Daniel Pearl. Government officials have repeatedly promised the case would be solved shortly, but fears are growing the investigation has stalled.

Police detained dozens of people and raided more homes in southern Sindh and central Punjab province during the weekend. But they are yet to find the whereabouts of the American reporter.

Investigators say they have so far gathered little information from the interrogation of leading suspect, Ahmed Omar Sheikh. The British-born and educated Islamic militant confessed to the kidnapping before a court in Karachi last week. He said he believes that Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl has been killed.

Pakistani investigators, who are being assisted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), maintain that Mr. Sheikh is lying about the reporter's death. They continue to believe that Mr. Pearl is alive because his body has not been found. They also argue the captors will gain nothing by killing him.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Aziz Ahmed Khan, speaking to reporters in Islamabad, rejected suggestions that efforts to track Mr. Pearl and his kidnappers are slowing down. "The investigations are going on with the same intensity and vigorousness as they were in the past," he assured the journalists, saying "there is no relenting on that score from the [security] agencies concerned."

The Wall Street Journal correspondent was kidnapped in Karachi while researching a story on Pakistani militants. The motives for his kidnapping remain unclear.

But members of a previously unknown Islamic group claim to have carried out the abduction. They have threatened to kill the American reporter if their demands are not met.

In two e-mail messages sent to several news networks last month, Mr. Pearl's kidnappers have demanded, among other things, repatriation of Pakistanis taken prisoner from the U.S.-led war on terrorism in fghanistan.

Mr. Pearl's pregnant wife, Mariane Pearl, has repeatedly urged his captors to release her husband or at least give her some word on his condition.

Reports in the Pakistani media say that key suspect Omer Sheik has told his interrogators the American reporter's kidnapping is a reaction to frustrate the government's crackdown on extremist Islamic groups in Pakistan.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has also drawn a possible link between the kidnapping and his efforts to crush Isalmic extremists in the country.