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Wednesday, 6 March, 2002, 17:24 GMT
Chief suspect 'met dead US journalist'
Sheikh Omar
Omar has denied involvement in the kidnapping
Pakistani police say a witness has testified that the chief suspect in the kidnapping of murdered US journalist Daniel Pearl met him shortly before he disappeared.

The suspect, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, also known as Sheikh Omar, appeared in a closed hearing in a Karachi court on Wednesday.

Police said afterwards a taxi driver told the court he dropped off Mr Pearl outside a restaurant on the evening of 23 January.

He then said he saw Sheikh Omar greeting Mr Pearl.

Witness protection

"A white car was parked there and four people were sitting inside the car," a police official quoted the taxi driver as saying, Reuters news agency reports.

"One person came out of the car and greeted the foreigner [Pearl]. The person who received the foreigner and asked him to sit inside the car was [Sheikh Omar]."

Daniel Pearl in captivity
Pearl's body has yet to be found

Police would not give the full name of the taxi driver who testified against Sheikh Omar for security reasons.

British-born Sheikh Omar was arrested on 12 February. Police believe he organised Mr Pearl's kidnapping.

On 21 February it was confirmed that Mr Pearl was dead after a video emerged showing him being beheaded by his kidnappers.

On his first appearance in court, Sheikh Omar said he was behind the kidnapping, but he retracted the statement at a later hearing.

The United States wants to extradite Sheikh Omar.

Pakistan has said it is considering the extradition request, but is reserving the right to try him in its own courts.

The United States has no extradition treaty with Pakistan, but government lawyers in Karachi say it might still be possible to find a way to hand him over.

Suspects sought

The US has offered a $5m reward for information leading to the capture of Mr Pearl's killers.

Three other men have been arrested in connection with the kidnapping.

Police say they have confessed to sending e-mails announcing Mr Pearl's kidnap which contained photographs of him in captivity.

Police say they are still searching for a number of other suspects in the case.

See also:

05 Mar 02 | South Asia
Pearl case extradition 'possible'
27 Feb 02 | South Asia
US offers reward for Pearl killers
26 Feb 02 | South Asia
US seeks Pearl suspect's extradition
26 Feb 02 | South Asia
Pearl widow backs hunt for killers
25 Feb 02 | South Asia
Pearl kidnap suspect accuses police
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