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Pakistan Holds Preliminary Trial of Four Charged With Pearl Murder

An anti-terrorism court in Pakistan has held another pre-trial hearing in the case of four men charged in the kidnapping and murder of American reporter Daniel Pearl. The charges carry a death penalty if the accused are found guilty.

The proceeding against British-born Islamic militant Ahmed Omar Sheikh and three alleged accomplices lasted for nearly one hour. The case is being heard in Karachi's central jail for what the officials say are security reasons. Only close relatives of the accused were allowed to witness the proceedings.

Security was tight around the jail. Reporters were not allowed inside the makeshift courtroom.

During Friday's preliminary hearings, the judge of the anti-terrorist court also issued formal arrest warrants for seven other alleged co-conspirators who remain at large.

Chief Prosecutor Raja Qureshi told reporters that the next hearing in the case will take place on April 12. "The trial will actually begin on the twelfth when the charges will be framed and the plea of the accused persons will be recorded as to whether they are guilty or otherwise," Mr. Qureshi said.

Under Pakistan's anti-terrorism law, the trial should last no more than seven days.

Defense lawyer Khwaja Naweed quoted one of the accused, Salman Saqib, as telling the court he was tortured by interrogators.

"And he had given the figure that he was given 350-slaps on the face and four times he was hanged upside down and he started bleeding from his old wounds," the defense lawyer said.

Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl disappeared in Karachi on January 23 while investigating links between Pakistani militants and terror mastermind Osama bin Laden. Confirmation of Mr. Pearl's death was received in a gruesome video a month after his disappearance. Pakistani authorities have yet to locate either the body of the American reporter or the weapon used to kill him.

The state has prepared a long list of witnesses who will give evidence against prime suspect Omar Sheikh and his three co-defendants. U.S. authorities have also indicted Mr. Sheikh and are seeking his extradition. Pakistan maintains it wants to complete its own trial before deciding whether to hand him over to the United States.