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Friday, 22 March, 2002, 17:53 GMT
Pearl suspects charged with murder
Sheikh Aslam, brother of one of the accused, Sheikh Adeel, outside the anti-terror court in Karachi
The brother of a suspect voices his support in Karachi
An Islamic militant accused of kidnapping American journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan has been charged with his murder at a special anti-terrorism court in Karachi.

British-born Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the key suspect, was charged along with 10 alleged accomplices, seven of whom have still to be apprehended.

The trial is scheduled to begin in Karachi next week, and all the suspects could face the death penalty if found guilty.

The case
Chief accused: Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh
Co-accused: Sheikh Mohammed Adeel; Fahad Naseem; Salman Saqib; Seven others still at large
Prosecution evidence: ransom e-mails; "execution" video; 31 witnesses including FBI agents
Charges: murder; kidnapping; demanding ransom; terrorism
Maximum penalty: death

A lawyer for three of the accused said he hoped his clients would be extradited to America to face trial, where sentences could be lighter if they confessed to lesser charges under the US judicial system.

Security personnel sealed off roads as Omar Sheikh was brought to court on Friday morning with his co-accused Sheikh Mohammed Adeel, who is allegedly connected to e-mail ransom demands.

The court building was surrounded by about 300 heavily armed police.

Two other suspects said to be linked to the e-mails - Fahad Naseem and Salman Saqib - have already appeared before a judge and were remanded to jail.

Police officers are continuing to search for seven more men who were charged in their absence.

Sheikh Omar
Prosecutors fear Sheikh Omar will use the trial to propagate extremist views

Daniel Pearl, the South Asia bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal, disappeared in Karachi on 23 January while attempting to arrange an interview with Islamic militants.

His death was confirmed in February but his body has not yet been recovered.

His pregnant widow, Mariane, will be called to testify at the trial, according to a senior police investigator.

She had issued several emotional pleas to her husband's captors to release him during an anguished month-long wait.

The BBC correspondent in Karachi said Omar Sheikh told the judge that he would act as his own lawyer.

Although the court was closed to press and public for Friday's charges, our correspondent said it would be difficult for Pakistan to hold the trial in camera.

He said the prosecution fears that Omar Sheikh may try to use his defence at the trial - which can last up to seven days under Pakistan's anti-terrorism laws - to propagate extremist views.

Key testimony

We have circumstantial evidence and also the videotape of Daniel Pearl's murder

Chief prosecutor Raja Quereshi

The case is expected to include the testimony of a taxi driver, who says he took Mr Pearl to meet Omar Sheikh at a restaurant and saw the two men shake hands.

Other evidence include e-mails claiming responsibility for the kidnapping and threatening to kill Mr Pearl were sent and a video allegedly showing the execution was delivered to a US embassy.

The chief prosecutor, Raja Quereshi, said he would be calling 31 witnesses, including officials from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Mariane Pearl
Daniel Pearl's wife Mariane said she would not shed a tear if his killers were executed
"We have circumstantial evidence and also the videotape of Daniel Pearl's murder," he said after the hearing.

Mr Pearl's wife said she would not oppose the death penalty if the suspects were found guilty.

A US federal grand jury has indicted Omar Sheikh and Washington wants to extradite him to face charges in the US, but Pakistan has said it will not consider such a move until its own investigations are concluded.

He has lived in Pakistan since he was released from an Indian prison as part of negotiations following the hijacking of an Indian Airlines passenger plane.

He had been jailed in connection with the kidnapping of four Westerners in 1994.

The BBC's Jill McGivering
"The murder was shocking and deeply embarrassing for the authorities"
The BBC's Zaffer Abbas in Karachi
"Sheikh told the judge he will not require the services of a defence lawyer"
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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