Suspect arrested over kidnapping of journalist

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The Independent Online

The chief suspect in the abduction of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was arrested Tuesday in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore.

Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh was being sent to the southern port city of Karachi where he will be interrogated, according to Interior Ministry secretary Tasneem Noorani.

Noorani said Saeed was arrested Tuesday afternoon but refused to give further details. Pearl's whereabouts remain unknown. He has been missing for three weeks.

Saeed, a 27–year–old, British–born Islamic militant, was freed from an Indian jail in December 1999 in exchange for passengers of an Indian Airlines jet that was hijacked to Kandahar, Afghanistan.

The arrest was announced one day before Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is to meet US President George W. Bush in Washington. The kidnapping had embarrassed the Musharraf government, which is seeking US aid as it attempts to combat Muslim extremism in this predominantly Islamic country of 147 million people.

Saeed's arrest "is a significant achievement in the case," Noorani said, adding that "we have to wait" to learn about Pearl's fate.

Lonnie Kelley, spokesman for the US Consulate in Karachi, said American officials had no word on Pearl's fate and were trying to confirm that Saeed has been arrested.

"We are looking into it, but nothing on Daniel yet," he said.

A team of police officers from the southern province of Sindh had been in Lahore searching for Saeed for the past few days, the government–run news agency Associated Press of Pakistan reported Tuesday.

Pearl, the Journal's South Asian bureau chief, was abducted on his way to a Karachi meeting with Islamic extremists. He hoped they would provide information about e–mails exchanged by Pakistani militants and Briton Richard C. Reid, the so–called shoe bomber arrested on a Paris–to–Miami flight in December with explosives in his sneakers.

Four days later, an e–mail sent to Pakistani and international media showed photos of Pearl in captivity and demanded that the United States repatriate Pakistanis captured in Afghanistan and now detained at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

A second e–mail sent Jan. 30 said the 38–year–old reporter would be killed in 24 hours. That was the last known message from his captors.