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Conflicting reports on missing reporter's fate

The group's e-mails have contained pictures of Pearl, some of which show a gun pointed at his head
The group's e-mails have contained pictures of Pearl, some of which show a gun pointed at his head  

KARACHI, Pakistan (CNN) -- The fate of kidnapped Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was thrown into further confusion Friday by one group's claim that it killed him and reports that another group is demanding money for his release.

Pearl's abductors had claimed they would kill him by Friday if their demands were not met.

News organizations received an e-mail Friday claiming that Pearl had been killed by a group that said it was "thirsty for the blood of another American."

The group that sent the e-mail claimed to be the one that abducted Pearl, but it was not immediately known if the e-mail was authentic.

The e-mail said Pearl's body could be found in a Karachi graveyard, but the city has more than 200 cemeteries.

Farrakhan statement urging release of reporter 

U.S. officials remain reluctant to confirm the e-mail's authenticity.

"There's not a lot of new information," said one senior State Department official late Friday. "We haven't discounted anything."

Officials concede they are refraining from offering a preliminary or cursory analysis of the e-mail because they are "trying not to excite Pearl's family, friends and colleagues" at The Wall Street Journal, where the 38-year-old Pearl works as a reporter.

This senior official said that the Bush administration wanted to "cross t's and dot i's" before it authenticates or dismisses the latest e-mail.

Several U.S. officials said FBI investigators on the ground in Pakistan are furiously working with local authorities and "pursuing every lead" -- including closely evaluating the three previous e-mails, which they hope can lead them to Pearl's kidnappers.

Other U.S. officials say there are reasons for skepticism about the e-mail, noting that it is unlike some of the previous messages from Pearl's kidnappers, in which photographs were included to prove the senders were in fact holding him. However, Thursday's e-mail, which was authenticated by U.S. officials, did not have photos attached either.

Local authorities are keeping an open mind.

"So far we have nothing to confirm that he is dead. We are checking all the cemeteries," said Tariq Jamil, the deputy inspector general of the Karachi police.

Asked about the news, a Wall Street Journal spokesman said, "We have seen the reports, and we remain hopeful they are not true."

Almost simultaneously in Karachi, a senior Karachi police source told CNN that a group phoned the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, demanding a $2 million ransom within 36 hours in exchange for Pearl's release. The group also demanded the release of the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Salam Zaeef, now in U.S. custody, this source said. However, U.S. officials said the call was cut off before the caller could state where and how the money should be handed over.

State Department officials said they were reviewing the e-mail, but had not yet verified that it came from the group responsible for kidnapping Pearl.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said officials were working to determine the validity of the claims made in the e-mail.

"Obviously, we can't confirm it. Hopefully, it's not true. I hope they realize they are holding an innocent man," Powell said as he was leaving a New York hotel.

"If it's not true, hopefully he can be released to his family soon," said Powell, who has been in touch with Pakistan's president about the case.

Earlier in Washington, President Bush had said "we have some leads," relating to at least two earlier e-mails.

"We are very concerned about the Wall Street Journal reporter. We've been in touch with the Pakistani government; we've been in touch with the Wall Street Journal," Bush said. "We've got both our agencies in the area actively involved in trying to rescue him."

In an earlier e-mail that included pictures of Pearl, his abductors identified themselves as a group known as The National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty. They demanded the release of all Pakistanis held by the United States as a result of the war on terrorism, including those held at Guantanamo, Cuba. The group has accused Pearl of working for the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency.

The Pearl abduction continued to stir up a diplomatic controversy as well. Pakistani authorities made further suggestions of Indian involvement in the kidnapping, despite New Delhi's insistence the charge is "ridiculous."

Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar, speaking at a news conference in Berlin, said the cell phone records of those arrested in the case -- including Sheikh Mubarik ali Gilani -- show calls to "prominent personalities in India."

The suggestion of an Indian link to the case also was made Thursday by a spokesman for Pakistan's president, but an Indian government spokeswoman said promptly the assertion was ridiculous.

"This is just one more example of the Pakistani military establishment imagination running riot. What else can one say? It has the stamp of ridiculous written all over it," the spokeswoman said.

Friday, other Pakistani officials were backing off identifying Gilani as a prime suspect.

Pearl was abducted last week while on his way to interview Gilani, the head of the fundamentalist Islamic Jamaat ul-Fuqra group, about possible ties the group had with Richard Reid, the alleged shoe bomber now in jail in the United States.

Gilani turned himself in to police Wednesday, after police had called him their main suspect. But Friday, Pakistani officials said that his status had changed because nothing had been found directly linking him to Pearl.

At least three other people have been detained in the case, all of them traced through their cell phone records.

The managing editor of the Wall Street Journal has issued several messages to Pearl's kidnappers urging them to free the reporter, saying his safe release could allow them to communicate their views to the world. Friday, both Amnesty International and Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, pleaded for Pearl's release as well.

"The taking of hostages is a grave human rights abuse and is totally unacceptable," Amnesty International said. "It is an act which threatens the fundamental right to life, personal integrity and liberty, and is expressly prohibited by international law."

Farrakhan, in his statement, said, "I urge the immediate release and safe return of Mr. Pearl. His release may serve the greater good and promote meaningful dialogue with the American people and government."

-- CNN Correspondents Andrea Koppel, David Ensor and Producer Elise Labott contributed to this report




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