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Thursday, 7 February, 2002, 13:31 GMT
Face to face with Sheikh Omar
Police outside the home of journalist Daniel Pearl
Police are still hunting Daniel Pearl's kidnappers
British-born Sheikh Omar Saeed, the leading suspect in the kidnapping of American journalist Daniel Pearl, had several brushes with the news media in 1994. On one occasion he walked into the BBC offices in Delhi to deliver a note about the kidnapping of four foreigners.

Later that year - after being wounded in a gun battle with Indian police - he was visited by Zubair Ahmed, now of BBC World, who recounts the experience.

We stumbled upon Sheikh Omar Saeed by chance.

I was leading a three-man television crew from a private Indian news channel.

He appeared repentant, but clearly not enough

While on the trail of a crime and kidnapping story in Ghaziabad, just outside the Indian capital, Delhi, we found Sheikh Omar.

He had been involved in a fierce gunfight with Indian police in the northern Indian town of Saharanpur.

Police said he was part of a group of Kashmiri militants who had kidnapped some Western tourists.

A senior police officer died in the gunfight and some of the militants, including Sheikh Omar, were wounded.

So that is where I found him, with a bad shoulder wound in a room in a swanky private hospital under heavily-armed guard.

Not on wanted list

I thought he had not even been interrogated.

The authorities clearly had no idea who he was, as he was not on the list of wanted men.

Though at first reluctant, the police finally allowed us in to speak to him, but he was not keen to play along.

The hijacked Air India plane at Kandahar.
Sheikh Omar was freed in 1999 in a deal to secure the release of hostages
The camera was rolling anyway as we came face to face with the tall, bearded young man, propped up against hospital pillows but still belligerent.

"Do you have the doctor's permission to speak to me," he snapped.

I confessed I did not, but I showed him my identity card.

That seemed to do the trick and he started to talk.

British accent

Sheikh Omar looked extremely worried and he told me he would give anything to return to life in Britain.

He was strikingly young and his accent was distinctly British.

He said he was 20 years old and had spent two years taking part in jihad in Bosnia.

Sheikh Omar Saeed
Sheikh Omar insisted he had made a mistake
But over an over, he repeated, he had made a mistake.

"Please get me out of here," he pleaded.

He said he had been fooled by the hard-luck stories he had heard about the plight of Muslims and Kashmiris in India.

He said he had been part of a group charged with kidnapping some foreign tourists to barter for militants held in prison in India.

He said he had been in Delhi for more than a month before the kidnapping and was struck by the religious freedom he saw.

"I had been told that Muslims in India had no religious rights and Kashmiri Muslims were being subjected to torture and rape by the Hindu army," he said.

Hostage deal

I asked him, if he was released, would he go back and tell people in Britain that we Indian Muslims were free to build mosques, say our prayers and work in government offices.

He said he would.

He appeared repentant, but clearly not enough.

The next I heard of him was at the turn of the century when he was released by the Indian Government in exchange for the passengers of the hijacked Indian Airlines flight in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

See also:

06 Feb 02 | South Asia
Suspect named in reporter's kidnap
06 Feb 02 | UK
Profile: Sheikh Omar Saeed
04 Feb 02 | South Asia
Hunt goes on for US journalist
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