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US Extradition of Pearl Suspect Unclear - 2002-03-14

The key suspect in the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl has been indicted by a federal grand jury in the U.S. state of New Jersey. But the suspect remains in custody in Pakistan, and it is unclear if or when he might be extradited to the United States.

A federal grand jury in New Jersey has indicted Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, also known as Sheikh Omar, in connection with the January kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl.

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft announced in Washington that Sheikh Omar has been charged with hostage-taking and conspiracy to commit hostage-taking, resulting in Mr. Pearl's death.

Mr. Ashcroft says the indictment charges that Sheikh Omar trained in al-Qaida terrorist camps in Afghanistan and fought with the Taliban before hatching a scheme to take Daniel Pearl as a hostage:

"Using the Internet to communicate, Saeed used a false identity to lure Daniel Pearl to a meeting in Karachi with a fictitious source," he said. It was from this meeting that Pearl was abducted."

Mr. Ashcroft says the conspirators sent an initial email on January 26 saying they had taken the Wall Street Journal reporter hostage. "In a second email sent January 30, Daniel Pearl's kidnappers threatened to execute him if their demands were not met and threatened the lives of other American journalists in Pakistan," he said. "But before that message was sent, the indictment charges, the conspirators had already brutally killed Daniel Pearl and videotaped the mutilation of his body."

The charges were brought in New Jersey because that is home to the headquarters of Mr. Pearl's newspaper, The Wall Street Journal.

Sheikh Omar is being held in Pakistan for possible trial in connection with the Pearl murder. But so far, U.S. and Pakistani authorities have not reached agreement on a possible extradition to the United States.

"We are collaborating with the Pakistanis and informing them of our interest and we expected them to be cooperative," Attorney General Ashcroft said. "To say further at this time would be inappropriate."

Federal prosecutors also made public a previous grand jury indictment against Sheikh Omar charging him in connection with the 1994 abduction of another American, Bela Nuss, who was visiting India at the time.

At the time of his abduction in January, Daniel Pearl was working on a story involving alleged links between Pakistani extremists and Richard Reid. Mr. Reid was arrested in December after allegedly trying to detonate explosives in his shoes during a flight from Paris to Miami.