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Federal grand jury considers Pearl's kidnapping

Pearl's kidnappers released this picture
Pearl's kidnappers released this picture  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A federal grand jury had been considering criminal charges in the kidnapping of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl even before his death was determined, a source told CNN Thursday.

There is no indication when any charges may be filed, according to the U.S. government source, who would not divulge when the grand jury was first convened.

But the source said that one of those who may be charged is the alleged kidnapping ringleader Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh.

Saeed Sheikh -- released from an India prison in 1999 as part of a deal to end a terrorist hijacking -- is one of several people under arrest in Pakistan.

The United States has asked for Saeed Sheikh's extradition, but Pakistan said it must complete its own investigation before considering that.

In a Pakistani court last week, Saeed Sheikh said he arranged the reporter's kidnapping and told the judge he believed Pearl was dead -- a claim widely discredited, because he had said earlier the reporter was alive.

Pearl disappeared January 23 in Karachi, Pakistan, while researching a story he was writing on Richard Reid, the man accused of trying to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight with explosives hidden in his shoes. Pearl believed he was on his way to interview an Islamic religious leader thought to have connections with Reid.

E-mails purported to be between Pearl and Saeed Sheikh -- who used a pseudonym -- indicated Sheikh had lured Pearl into a trap with vague promises of the interview, according to officials.

Attorney General John Ashcroft late Thursday said Pearl "paid the ultimate sacrifice for his commitment to freedom," and that he is a victim of a "conflict between our free and democratic society and a hateful plague that seeks to destroy our freedoms."

"We will bring to justice terrorists who kill innocent Americans," Ashcroft said in a statement. It did not discuss the grand jury proceedings.

U.S. and Pakistani officials said Thursday they had obtained a videotape containing "indisputable" confirmation that the 38-year-old Pearl had been killed. It is not known when he was killed.

Two Pakistani men approached a Pakistani journalist and offered up the tape, and a U.S. law enforcement agent acquired it, an official told CNN.

"It is clear he's been murdered," another U.S. official said.

FBI officials in Washington refused to answer any questions about their role in retrieving the Pearl videotape in Pakistan, referring all inquiries to the State Department.




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