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Journalist still missing; Pakistani president’s visit looms

Posted 10:50 a.m. Feb. 11

By Shaphan Marwah

(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – With less than a week until his official visit to Washington, Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf is under intense pressure to orchestrate the rescue of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter kidnapped last month.

The kidnappers, calling themselves the “National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty,” abducted the 38-year-old reporter Jan. 23, while he was working on a story about radical Islamic groups hiding in Pakistan.

Police have increased the number of suspects in custody to 14.

The main suspect, Sheikh Omar Saeed, remains at large. British-born Sheikh Omar, as he is more widely known, is thought to be connected with the banned terrorist organization Jaish-e-Mohammad, which is allegedly responsible for the recent terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament.

Pakistani Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider reported last week that Omar might have fled the city of Karachi, where Pearl was last seen almost three weeks ago.

According to Haider, Omar’s aunt urged the suspected kidnapper to turn himself in during a phone conversation on Tuesday.

“We have been rounded up by the police, and I think your game is out and we didn’t know you were indulging in this,” Omar’s aunt said, according to Haider. “You better hand over yourself.”

Omar’s aunt and three cousins, whose names were not released, were held for interrogation by police early last week.

Pearl was originally accused of being an Israeli by the kidnappers, and later an American spy.

The kidnappers explained in e-mails that they are willing to free Pearl in exchange for the prisoners held on Guantanamo Bay and the delivery of an F-16 fighter plane sold to Pakistan nearly two decades ago.

“It just shows their desperation and idiocy,” said Patrick Tan, a freshman at Carnegie Mellon University. “America won’t release the 800 prisoners anyway.”

“Pakistani authorities are doing all they possibly can to obtain the release of Mr. Pearl,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said in a recent press conference. “The United States is fully satisfied with the actions of the Pakistani government.”

Freshman Toshio Tangiku from the University of Pennsylvania was more cautious in his appraisal. “I don’t really know what to feel about it,” he explained, “I have a certain skepticism about the objectivity of the reporting.”

Despite little contact from the kidnappers, (they have been silent for over a week), the Pakistani president continues to be confident of a speedy recovery.

“We are getting near; we have got some key personalities,” Musharraf said in a press conference last week.

Adding to the confusion surrounding the case, ABC News misreported Pearl’s death early last week.

“Now we find the information was false, and we regret that,” ABC anchor Carole Simpson told viewers an hour later.

Musharraf is scheduled to speak at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Thursday afternoon.

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