Police in Pakistan charge three over kidnapped reporter

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Pakistani police charged three people yesterday with the kidnapping of the American journalist Daniel Pearl as the President of Pakistan expressed confidence that the case would be resolved.

Seventeen days after the reporter from The Wall Street Journal disappeared in the port city of Karachi, he is believed to be alive.

Mr Pearl was kidnapped by a previously unknown group calling itself the Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty, but the man behind the crime is believed to be an Islamic militant with a British passport and upbringing, called Omar Sheikh.

President Pervez Musharraf told reporters in Islamabad he was "extremely hopeful" the case would be solved. He has an important meeting with President George Bush in Washington next week, and Pakistan's success or otherwise in finding Mr Pearl alive will be seen as a test of Mr Musharraf's ability to do as he has promised and crack down on what he has described as the "cancer" of Islamic militancy.

Yesterday, police in Lahore and Karachi raided the homes of relatives and friends of Mr Sheikh, who pulled off four abductions in Delhi eight years ago and is now a fugitive.

The three men charged with his kidnapping, Farhad Naseem and two other unidentified suspects, allegedly sent threatening e-mails about Mr Pearl to the Journal from a Karachi apartment complex.

The e-mails included photographs of Mr Pearl in captivity and were found on Mr Naseem's laptop computer, police said. The police also detained for questioning Mr Naseem's uncle.

Mr Pearl was trying to meet and interview Islamic militants for an article when he disappeared on 23 January. Three days later media organisations received the photographs, in which he was pictured chains and with a gun to his head. Ransom notes with the photographs demanded Pakistani "detainees" held by the Americans at Camp X-Ray on Cuba be returned for trial in Pakistan.