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Key kidnapping suspect arrested, boosting hope

©Los Angeles Times
February 13, 2002

KARACHI, Pakistan -- The top suspect in the kidnapping of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl has been captured and has told police that the captive correspondent remains alive.

The arrest of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh on Tuesday afternoon in the northeastern city of Lahore came after Sheikh returned to a family member's home, where authorities who were monitoring his telephone calls lay in wait.

"We were on a stakeout Tuesday morning," said Javed Noor, deputy inspector general of police in Lahore. "We sat outside the home until Sheikh showed up. He was not surprised. He didn't put up a fight. He was not armed. He was very cool."

The arrest raised hopes that Pearl, 38, would be freed soon, three weeks after his disappearance in this port city where he came to investigate alleged connections between an extremist Islamic group and accused "shoe bomber" Richard C. Reid.

It was not immediately clear, however, if Sheikh gave investigators information about Pearl's whereabouts.

Investigators transferred Sheikh to Karachi soon after his arrest, and appeared to be hustling to resolve the kidnapping case that has added tension to U.S.-Pakistani relations. President Pervez Musharraf is in Washington for a meeting today with President Bush.

Aided by FBI agents, police from Punjab province, where Lahore is located, tracked down Sheikh by studying records of phone calls made by two Sheikh associates arrested in Islamabad, Noor said. The suspects, whose names have not been released, made numerous cell phone calls to the house where Sheikh was apprehended.

"The FBI provided great technical assistance in all this," said Javed Cheema, director general of the crisis management division of the Interior Ministry. "It's too early to tell when Daniel will be recovered, but we have been told he is alive."

The arrest boosted hopes among U.S. officials, family and colleagues who have weathered weeks of promises, predictions, speculation and hoaxes concerning Pearl's fate.

A 27-year-old British citizen, Sheikh has ties to Pakistani Islamic extremist groups as well as the al-Qaida terrorist network. Indian intelligence officials suspect he is behind an attack last month on the American Center in Calcutta and have said they believe he may have wired money to Mohamed Atta, a suspected ringleader of the suicide attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

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