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Wednesday, 13 February, 2002, 06:29 GMT
Key Pearl suspect due in court
Daniel Pearl in captivity
Sheikh Omar says Daniel Pearl is alive
The main suspect in the kidnapping of the American journalist Daniel Pearl is being questioned in the Pakistani city of Karachi and is expected to appear in court later on Wednesday.

The suspect, Sheikh Omar Saeed, has told police Mr Pearl is alive. But there was no further information on the journalist's whereabouts, and a senior police official said they still did not know his fate.

Sheikh Omar wearing a garland seen in a photo dated 16 November 2000
British-born Sheikh Omar was arrested on Monday
"Unless we discover firm evidence about what has happened to Daniel, I would say it is unclear [if he is still alive]," Syed Kamal Shah, police chief in the southern province of Sindh, told Reuters.

Mr Pearl, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, disappeared last month in Karachi while investigating Islamic militants.

The arrest of Sheikh Omar is being seen as the biggest breakthrough in the three-week-old investigation and could reveal whether Mr Pearl is alive - or whether he has been executed, as earlier threatened by the kidnappers.

Investigating authorities believe Sheikh Omar, 27, who was implicated by other captured suspects, is linked to the banned militant group, Jaish-e-Mohammed.

A British-born Islamic militant, he had been imprisoned in India on charges of kidnapping four tourists and released in a hostage exchange deal in 1999.

Three men, arrested for helping to send e-mails including photographs of the kidnapped 38-year-old South Asia bureau chief, told police they were following Sheikh Omar's orders.

On Tuesday, the three were remanded in custody for a further 14 days by a judge in Karachi.

They arrived at the high-security trial handcuffed and chained together, with their faces covered by blankets and towels.

Several more arrests were reported in Karachi, Rawalpindi and other major cities.

Daniel Pearl
Daniel Pearl wanted to interview Islamic militants

Jamil Yousuf, head of a citizens' police liaison committee that is involved with the investigation, said the key break in Sheikh Omar's arrest came on Monday night with the arrest of a suspect in Islamabad who gave key information.

The developments came as Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is on an official visit to Washington.

Correspondents say the case threatens to cast a shadow over his meeting with US President George W Bush later on Wednesday.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Susannah Price
"The suspect said Daniel Pearl is alive"
See also:

11 Feb 02 | South Asia
Kidnap suspect 'may be in Lahore'
08 Feb 02 | South Asia
Three charged in Pearl kidnap case
06 Feb 02 | South Asia
Suspect named in reporter's kidnap
06 Feb 02 | South Asia
In pictures: Daniel Pearl kidnapping
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