Court raps up Pearl case hearing: verdict set for Monday

A Pakistani Anti-Terrorism Court in the southern city of Hyderabad rapped up the hearing in the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl kidnapped case behind closed doors and announced to hand down a verdict on Monday.

Chief prosecutor Raja Qureshi on Wednesday told reporters that they have demanded death penalty for the four accused in the kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl claiming that the prosecution side had proved their crime by producing various proofs before the court, whereas defence lawyer Rai Bashir claimed that his team succeeded in convincing the court that the four accused were not guilty of the crime.

Raja Qureshi said Judge Ashraf Ali Shah will hand down the verdict on Monday.

Defence and prosecution lawyers told reporters outside the court that Qureshi and Bashir have completed their arguments in the trial and both the sides were optimistic of getting the Monday verdict in their favour.

Rai Bashir said that the evidences brought up by the prosecution team against the accused persons proved doubtful and on the basis of such evidences they could not be convicted.

He said: "I pray to the court to decide the case without succumbing to any pressure and fear, and acquit them honourably so justice could be done."

Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh was charged with masterminding Pearl's kidnap and murder while three others - Fahad Naseem, Salman Saqib and Sheikh Adil - were charged with acting on his instructions. They all pleaded not guilty.

Wire news agencies add that Pearl, the India-based correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, was researching a story on extremist Muslim groups when he was kidnapped in the port city of Karachi on January 23.

E-mails from kidnappers carried photographs of Pearl in chains and with a gun to his head. One accused him of spying for the Israeli secret service agency, Mossad.

A month after his disappearance, a gory video showing Pearl had been murdered was delivered to the US consulate in Karachi. It showed the reporter admitted he was Jew, before showing his throat being cut. Police found a body in a shallow grave on the outskirts of Karachi in May, but have not yet confirmed whether the remains are those of Pearl.

The trial had originally opened on April 5 inside a jail in Karachi, but was moved to Hyderabad in early May on security concerns. Reporters were barred from proceedings, but were allowed to be briefed by both prosecution and defence lawyers at the end of each day's hearings.

The prosecutors had originally planned to bring 36 prosecution witnesses but later dropped 13 of them -- including Pearl's French-born widow Mariane, who couldn't travel after giving birth to a boy in late May.

Omar has also been indicted in the United States in connection with the kidnapping of an American and three other tourists in India, and the US government has asked for him to be extradited to face trial there.

He was arrested and charged in India with those kidnappings, but released in a complicated exchange after Kashmiri separatists hijacked an Air India plane and forced it to Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 1999.

Pearl's kidnapping and murder was the first of four attacks on Western targets in Pakistan this year.

A grenade attack on a church in Islamabad in March killed five people, including three foreigners, while in May a suicide car bomber killed 11 French engineers and two Pakistanis outside a Karachi hotel. Last month, 12 Pakistanis were killed and 20 others seriously injured in a car bomb attack on the US consulate in Karachi.

Safiullah Gul PRAVDA.Ru

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