Federal Grand Jury Set to Indict Sheikh
U.S. officials are eager to try the main suspect in Daniel Pearls murder. But how will they get him out of Pakistan?
by Daniel Klaidman
March 13, 2002
When the news of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearls brutal murder was revealed last month, Bush administration officials promised justiceon American soil. Federal prosecutors began feverishly working to make a case against the chief suspect in the case, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh. And U.S. diplomats and law-enforcement officials worked behind the scenes to persuade Pakistan to hand Sheikh over to the United States. Now, the Justice Department is about to take a first important step toward prosecution. In the next few days, NEWSWEEK has learned, a federal grand jury in New Jersey is expected to return a multi-count indictment against Sheikh for his alleged role in the kidnapping and execution of Pearl.
Sheikh will likely be charged with offenses short of murdersuch as kidnapping or conspiracywhile prosecutors continue to assemble additional evidence, the sources say. The indictment is designed to stake a claim to the case, says a knowledgeable U.S. officialand put pressure on the Pakistanis to extradite Sheikh.
The indictment may give voice to American outrage over a vicious act of terrorism.
But some Justice Department officials are worried that the charges could be
little more than a symbolic victory. Sheikh, they fear, may not be extradited
to the United States soon, if ever. Pakistani officials have said they plan
to put Sheikh on trial, a bid to show the international community that the countrys
justice system fairly and efficiently handled the case. The Pakistanis then
could argue that prosecuting the London-born extremist in the United States
would amount to double jeopardy.
In this mounting battle over the Pearl case, the Justice Department is contemplating another important tactical move. Sources tell NEWSWEEK that federal prosecutors in Washington may soon unseal a November indictment of Sheikh by a Washington grand jury. That indictment charges him with hostage taking for a 1994 kidnapping plot of Western touristsincluding one Americanin India.
Administration officials began pressuring Pakistan to hand over Sheikh immediately after the grand jury moved against him. And on Jan. 9, U.S. Ambassador Wendy Chamberlin met with Pakistans foreign minister in Islamabad, to plead the U.S. case.
One issue: Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf feared an extradition of Sheikh would inflame passions among groups opposed to his regime. So the Americans even laid out an elaborate plan to offer Musharraf cover. It involved having FBI officials arrange a snatch of Sheikh, allowing the Pakistanis to claim a measure of deniability.
But it was too little, too late. Pearl, was abducted off the streets of Karachi on Jan. 23, after being lured to a restaurant allegedly by Sheikh himself.
Bush administration officials have not given up hope prosecutors will be able
to try Sheikh in the United States. But they are increasingly counting on behind-the-scenes
diplomacy to get him here. Meanwhile, Sheikh sits in a Karachi prison, biding
his time. In interviews with FBI agents working the case, Sheikh seems confident,
even cocky. He has told his interrogators that he is sure he will
not be extradited to the United States. And he says he does not expect to serve
any more than three or four years in prison in Pakistan.
Sheikh may have good reason to feel secure. For a convicted terrorist, he has led a charmed life. He first caught the attention of U.S. law enforcement for his role in the 1994 Indian kidnapping plot. That plan was foiled by Indian police and he was imprisoned. Five years later, Sheikh was set free in a hostage swap after some of his comrades hijacked an Indian airliner, threatening to kill the 155 passengers unless Sheikh and another militant were set free.
Sheikh then traveled to Pakistan, where he lived openlyand opulentlyin a wealthy Lahore neighborhood. U.S. sources say he did little to hide his connections to terrorist organizations, and even attended swanky parties attended by senior Pakistani government officials. His open defiance of Pakistani authorities contributed to speculation by American law-enforcement and intelligence officials that Sheikh has been a protected asset, of Pakistans shadowy spy service, the Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI. But when FBI agents questioned Sheikh earlier this month about his relationship with the ISI, Sheikhs answers were elliptical. I will not discuss this subject, one source quoted him as saying. I do not want my family to be killed.
� 2002 Newsweek, Inc.
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