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Thursday, 14 March, 2002, 22:00 GMT
Suspect indicted in Pearl kidnap
Sheikh Omar outside court
The US is keen to prosecute Sheikh Omar on US soil
A British-born Islamic militant has been indicted in the United States in connection with the kidnapping in Pakistan of murdered US journalist Daniel Pearl.

Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl
Investigators are still looking for Mr Pearl's body
Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, also known as Sheikh Omar, was indicted by a federal grand jury in New Jersey on two counts - hostage taking and one of conspiring to take hostages resulting in the death of Mr Pearl.

Sheikh Omar is at present being held in the Pakistani city of Karachi while the authorities there decide whether to try him or extradite him.

Pakistan has arrested three other men in connection with Mr Pearl's kidnapping.

US Attorney General John Ashcroft told reporters that Sheikh Omar could face the death penalty if found guilty in the US.

Meanwhile, a Pakistani man who claimed to have murdered Mr Pearl has retracted his confession after claiming he lied to try and save Sheikh Omar's life.

Adnan Khan, who was arrested in Lahore on Thursday after speaking to a newspaper, has been cleared of any suspicion, but police are to keep him in custody for a few days longer for his own safety, Reuters news agency reported.

Al-Qaeda link

The indictment charges that "in the early weeks of 2002 [Sheikh Omar] led a ring who carefully and methodically set a death trap for Pearl and savagely ended his life," Mr Ashcroft said.

Sheikh Omar Saeed
Sheikh Omar is alleged to have fought alongside the Taleban and al-Qaeda

It says that Sheikh Omar was the member of a militant organisation and had trained in military camps in Afghanistan.

He is also alleged to have fought alongside the Taleban and al-Qaeda in October and November last year.

Sheikh Omar allegedly kidnapped Mr Pearl, Mr Ashcroft said, in an attempt to influence American policy following the 11 September attacks on America.

The indictment was issued in New Jersey because the corporate headquarters of Dow Jones & Company, which owns the Wall Street Journal where Daniel Pearl worked, is based there.

Pakistan has said it has not yet made a decision on how to respond to the US request to extradite Sheikh Omar.

However Mr Ashcroft indicated that the US would like to see Sheikh Omar prosecuted on American soil.

"We expect them (Pakistani authorities) to be co-operative," said Mr Ashcroft.

"We are signalling our clear interest on charging him on these charges and bringing him to the US."

Widow praised

Mr Pearl disappeared on 23 January from Karachi after reportedly researching links between alleged shoe bomber Richard Reid and Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

His death was confirmed last month when a gruesome video emerged showing his beheading by his captors.

His body has never been found.

Mr Ashcroft also praised Pearl's widow, Mariane, who is pregnant with the couple's first child, for her courage following her husband's death.

"The US has not forsaken your husband nor the values he embodied and cherished," he said.

"The story he died trying to tell will be told, and justice will be done."

The BBC's Duncan Kennedy
"He could face the death penalty in America"
US Attorney General John Ashcroft
"Saeed is charged with the kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl"
See also:

09 Mar 02 | South Asia
Pearl case suspect hears testimony
07 Mar 02 | South Asia
Musharraf says Pearl 'too intrusive'
06 Mar 02 | South Asia
Chief suspect 'met dead US journalist'
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
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