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Thursday, 14 February, 2002, 12:20 GMT
Pakistan disputes reporter death claim
Sheikh Omar arrives in court
Omar appeared under heavy security
A British-born Islamic militant, Sheikh Omar Saeed, has told a Pakistani court that he kidnapped American reporter Daniel Pearl and that he believes the journalist is now dead.

Appearing in court in Karachi, from where Mr Pearl disappeared on 23 January, Sheikh Omar said "as far as I know he's dead".

Right or wrong I had my reasons. I think our country shouldn't be catering to America's needs

Sheikh Omar Saeed
The statement contradicted comments made by him during his arrest on Tuesday, when he said Mr Pearl was alive.

Pakistani officials have dismissed Mr Saeed's latest comments while The Wall Street Journal has released a statement saying it is convinced Mr Pearl is still alive.

A Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman, Aziz Ahmed Khan, told journalists that the government did not "give credence" to Omar Sheikh's statement.

Pakistani police say Sheikh Omar, considered the mastermind behind the kidnapping, confessed during interrogation to the crime, but did not disclose Mr Pearl's whereabouts.

Sheikh Omar wearing a garland seen in a photo dated 16 November 2000
British-born Sheikh Omar: "Highly educated"
Police raided two houses in Karachi, based on information gleaned from the suspect, but there was no sign of the missing reporter.

On Wednesday, the Pakistani President, Pervez Musharraf, who is visiting Washington, expressed confidence that the journalist would be freed soon.

President George W Bush praised General Musharraf for exerting maximum effort to find Mr Pearl.

Court appearance

Sheikh Omar appeared in court for the first time since his arrest under heavy armed guard.

Until the body is found we cannot believe what Omar is saying

Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider
The 27-year-old former English public schoolboy arrived at the court in an armoured personnel carrier, handcuffed and hooded.

He told the judge he carried out the kidnapping under "my own free will".

"Right or wrong I had my reasons," he said. "I think our country shouldn't be catering to America's needs."

The court ordered him to be held in custody for 13 days.

The suspect is said to be a member of a banned Islamic militant group in Pakistan, the Jaish-e-Mohammad.

He was released from an Indian jail in 1999, along with Jaish leader Maulana Masood Azhar, in exchange for hostages on board a hijacked Indian airliner.

Still hopeful

Journalists were not allowed into the courtroom.

Daniel Pearl
Daniel Pearl wanted to interview Islamic militants
Steven Goldstein, spokesman for Dow Jones, which owns The Wall Street Journal, said he had not heard the statement.

"We continue to remain hopeful," the Associated Press quoted him as saying.

"We remain confident that Danny is still alive."

Pakistan's Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider also said he would reserve judgement.

"Until the body is found we cannot believe what Omar is saying," he told AP.

"We need proof or evidence."

Mr Pearl disappeared while investigating the al-Qaeda network.

The last information about his condition came in photographs emailed to various news organisations along with demands for improved treatment for al-Qaeda detainees being held by the Americans.

The BBC's Susannah Price
"Pakistani authorities say they don't believe a word he says"
Jameel Yusuf, Karachi Citizens Police Liaison Cttee
"There is presently no evidence that he is dead"
See also:

13 Feb 02 | South Asia
Key Pearl suspect due in court
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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