Tags: Islamic | Cleric | Arrested | Reporter's | Abduction

Islamic Cleric Arrested in Reporter's Abduction

Wednesday, 30 January 2002 12:00 AM

Pearl's whereabouts are still unknown. A U.S. intelligence official confirmed "as probably genuine" an e-mail sent Wednesday to news organizations. The message threatened to kill Pearl within 24 hours and warned all "Amereekcan journalists" in Pakistan to leave within three days.

Aaron Bedy, a spokesman for the Wall Street Journal, told United Press International Wednesday evening the newspaper had not received further updates on Pearl or his condition.

Sheik Mubarak Ali Shan Gilani was arrested by Pakistani police in the northern city of Rawalpindi and transported to Karachi, State Department officials said. At least a dozen of his followers have also been detained.

News of the arrest followed a UPI exclusive report published Tuesday that said Gilani was the man Pearl was on his way to interview when he was kidnapped. The UPI report said U.S. intelligence officials suspected ties between Pearl's kidnappers and Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence Directorate.

Gilani, also known as Mubarak Ali Shah and Sheik Mubarak Ali Jilani Hasmi, leads an Islamic extremist group called Tanzaimul Fuqra.

Al Fuqra is a splinter group of the extremist Army of Muhammad, a jihadi organization recently banned by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. It has had long-standing connections with senior ISI officials, State Department analysts said.

The links are so clear, said former CIA chief of counterterrorism Vince Cannistraro, that "Gilani has some former senior ISI official sitting on the board of his organization."

The e-mail accused Pearl of being an agent of Mossad, Israel's intelligence agency, an allegation the Wall Street Journal immediately denied. "He is a reporter for us - nothing more or less," a published statement said. "He cannot affect the policy of the U.S. or Pakistan government. Nor can we."

The e-mail accused other U.S. journalists of being spies as well.

According to U.S. intelligence officials, al Fuqra's members include American blacks wooed to follow a militant form of Islam. The group has carried out terrorist acts within the United States, including murder, robbery and welfare fraud, the bulk of the crimes occurring in the mid-to late 1980s.

Cannistraro said some attacks continued in the mid-1990s, however, and included "the murder of the leader of a mosque in Tucson, Ariz." Lt. Michael Grys of the intelligence unit of the Colorado Spings, Colo., Police Department confirmed the information, telling UPI he investigated the group in 1989 and has first-hand knowledge of the Tucson case.

Al Fuqra, which used to be known as Jamaat-ul-Fuqra, is described in the State Department's 1998 "Patterns of Global Terrorism" as follows: "Seeks to purify Islam through violence. Members have purchased isolated rural compounds in North America to live communally, practice their faith and insulate themselves from Western culture. Fuqra members have attacked a variety of targets that they view as enemies of Islam, including Muslims they regard as heretics and Hindus."

U.S. intelligence officials said al Fuqra has close ties with Pakistan's ISI, prompting suspicion that the ISI was involved in the reporter's abduction. Former State Department and CIA counterterrorism expert Larry Johnson told United Press International, "It's either ISI or someone trying very hard to make it look like ISI."

Al Fuqra also has close ties with another Pakistani extremist group, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, which, significantly, was left off Musharraf's Jan. 12 list of banned organizations, and which has known ties to al-Qaeda, U.S. intelligence officials said.

Pearl, who was doing research on Richard Reid, the shoe-bomb suspect allegedly trained by al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, has been missing since Jan. 23.

According to UPI sources, Pearl had gone to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad asking for guidance about plans to interview Gilani, a supposed contact of Reid's.

Pearl was to be taken to the Tanzaimul Fuqra interview by two Pakistani guides. Embassy officials strongly advised against his going alone, without an interpreter or local assistant, State Department officials said.

The State Department confirmed a taxi driver told police that he took Pearl to Metropole Hotel, where he was last seen.

Later, e-mail messages arriving at the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, the New York Times and news organizations in Pakistan announced that Pearl had been kidnapped and detailed conditions for his release.

A group calling itself "The National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty" demanded repatriation of the Pakistani prisoners taken from Afghanistan to Cuba and the release of F-16 fighter aircraft purchased in the 1980s by the Pakistani government. The delivery of the planes was canceled by Congress in 1990 in response to Pakistan's continuing efforts to develop nuclear weapons.

"The kidnappers' conditions are all over the lot," Johnson pointed out. "What terrorist is going to ask for release of F-16s? They aren't a terrorist's weapon of choice."

Such demands smack more of ISI involvement, he told UPI.

In addition to Israel's Mossad, the kidnappers earlier accused Pearl of working for the CIA. The Wall Street Journal and the CIA promptly said the agency had no relation with the reporter.

U.S. intelligence officials noted that Pearl has been the head of the Wall Street Journal's bureau in Bombay, India, for the last two years. One said: "That could have meant trouble for him. Everyone out there thinks a journalist is a spy, and his being in India wouldn't help."

Tensions between India and Pakistan have remained at a high level since Dec. 13 attacks on the Indian Parliament by Pakistani jihadi groups that killed a dozen people, including the five terrorist suspects.

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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Pearl's whereabouts are still unknown. A U.S. intelligence official confirmed as probably genuine an e-mail sent Wednesday to news organizations. The message threatened to kill Pearl within 24 hours and warned all Amereekcan journalists in Pakistan to leave within three...
Wednesday, 30 January 2002 12:00 AM
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