America accuses British-born extremist of setting a death trap for Daniel Pearl

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The Independent Online

America accused Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh yesterday of "methodically setting a death trap" for murdered journalist Daniel Pearl. The British-born extremist was indicted on two charges. The charges carry the death penalty.

A federal grand jury issued the indictments – for hostage-taking and for hostage-taking leading to Mr Pearl's death. Authorities also revealed – or unsealed – an earlier indictment that charges Mr Saeed with a 1994 kidnapping.

Announcing the grand jury's decision, the US Attorney General, John Ashcroft, said Mr Saeed "methodically set a death trap for Daniel Pearl, lured him into it with lies and savagely ended his life".

In comments addressed to Mr Pearl's pregnant widow, Mariane, Mr Ashcroft added: "The US has not forsaken your husband nor the values he embodied and cherished. The story he died trying to tell will be told and justice will be done." At this stage, the indictments are something of a formality. The US has indicated to Pakistan that it wishes for Mr Saeed to be extradited to face a trial in the US. Islamabad has said it is prepared to discuss this, but wants to bring Mr Saeed to justice in Pakistan before any such extradition.

Mr Ashcroft said yesterday that negotiations over Mr Saeed between the two countries were continuing.

"We are signalling our clear interest in trying him on these charges and bringing him to justice in the United States," he said. "Where freedom is feared, men and women like Daniel Pearl will always be hunted, but where freedom is cherished they will be forever defended."

Mr Pearl, a reporter with The Wall Street Journal, was abducted in January while working in the southern Pakistan city of Karachi.

A video showing that he had been killed was subsequently released, though his body has still not been recovered.

The grand jury was formed in New Jersey because e-mails Mr Saeed allegedly sent to Mr Pearl under the name Chaudrey Bashir, were routed through the e-mail system of The Wall Street Journal, which is based in the state.

The indictment said that Mr Saeed, currently being held with a number of alleged accomplices, acted "in order to compel the US government to do and abstain form doing certain acts".

Mr Saeed, a former LSE student, is also accused of spending time at Afghan training camps and fighting alongside Taliban and al-Qa'ida forces during US attacks last September and October.