Updated news from the South Asian Journalists Association

New York, February 14, 2002—CPJ remains hopeful that kidnapped Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl is alive, despite today’s statement by a key suspect in the abduction that he thinks the reporter has been killed.

Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh, the man investigators say is responsible for Pearl’s kidnapping, told an anti-terrorism court in Karachi today that, “As far as I know, Pearl is dead.” Saeed had earlier told investigators that Pearl is alive, according to official sources.

Pearl disappeared in Karachi on January 23 while investigating a story about Islamic militants.

“Dozens of contradictory statements and competing theories about Daniel Pearl’s fate have been circulating over the past several weeks,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “We continue to hope that Danny Pearl’s captors will realize the futility of keeping him hostage, and that he will be released safely.”

Police announced Saeed’s arrest on February 12, hailing it as a major breakthrough in the investigation. The announcement came one day before Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf was due to meet with U.S. president George Bush to discuss, among other things, his administration’s efforts to curb the activities of Islamic militants in Pakistan.

Saeed, believed to be a leader of the banned Islamic militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed (Army of Mohammed), told the judge today, “I don’t want to defend this case. I did this.” He said that he carried out the kidnapping of “my own free will,” adding, “I think that our country shouldn’t be catering to America’s needs.”

Saeed had been arrested earlier in India, but never tried, for his involvement in the 1994 kidnapping of a group of Western backpackers in Kashmir. The kidnappers had demanded that New Delhi release 21 Islamic militants jailed for fighting Indian rule in the disputed territory of Kashmir, claimed by both India and Pakistan. The hostages were freed in a police raid, during which Saeed was shot and wounded.

Indian authorities released Saeed and two other militants in December 1999 in response to demands made by a group of gunmen who hijacked an Indian Airlines plane forced to land in Kandahar, Afghanistan.