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US reporter is dead, English Muslim tells Karachi court; PAKISTAN: Ex-public schoolboy's claim rejected.

THE English public schoolboy who became a Muslim militant yesterday admitted kidnapping an American reporter and said he was dead.

But Pakistani officials dismissed Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh's claim, and the Wall Street Journal said it remained confident that Daniel Pearl was alive.

"As far as I understand, he's dead, " Saeed, from Wanstead, east London, said in court in Karachi, where Pearl disappeared last month while investigating a story on Islamic militants.

Saeed, a London School of Economics drop-out, said he carried out the kidnapping of "my own free will", adding, "I don't want to defend this case. I did this."

The 27-year-old has a history of kidnapping foreigners. He appeared in court sullen, bespectacled and surrounded by police with machine guns, helmets and bullet-proof vests.

He was formally charged with kidnapping and was ordered to be held in custody for two weeks.

Officials quickly cast doubt on Saeed's statement about Pearl's death. He gave no details on where or when the 38-year-old journalist was allegedly killed, and just a day earlier, police said, he had told them Pearl was still alive.

"Until the body is found we cannot believe what Omar is saying, " said Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider.

"We need proof or evidence. We will continue to work on him, grind him, ask him: 'Where was Pearl kept?

Where is his body?'

"Omar himself admitted he masterminded and planned this crime."

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Aziz Khan also denied Saeed's claims.

"This gentleman has been making several statements and changing these statements, " he said. "We cannot give any credence to any of these statements that he gives."

Meanwhile, Pearl's wife Mariane, who is six months pregnant with the couple's first child, pleaded for her husband's release in a letter to his captors.

"As you know, Danny is an innocent man, a journalist who has come to you as a guest with an open mind and the sole objective of writing about your views for a global audience, " she wrote.

"Danny and I learned just two days before his disappearance that we would be bringing a boy into the world, " she added. "Our child is a living soul. Since his father's disappearance, he is now breathing into his being the worry and apprehension I have about my husband's wellbeing."

Police had said Saeed surrendered on Tuesday, but during his court appearance, Saeed said he had been in police custody since February 5.

There was no explanation for the discrepancy.
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Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Feb 15, 2002
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