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FBI makes rare Pakistan court appeareance

By ANWAR IQBAL, UPI South Asian Affairs Analyst

WASHINGTON, May 14 (UPI) -- In a rare display of cooperation, the FBI has allowed two of its agents to appear before a Pakistani court trying four men accused of kidnapping and slaying Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

John Folgon, who appeared before the court on Tuesday, showed a video sent to the U.S. Consulate in Karachi on Feb. 13 by Pearl's abductors.

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Last week, another FBI agent, Ronald Joseph, told the anti-terrorism court in the southern Pakistani city of Haiderabad how he traced e-mails announcing Pearl's abduction to a laptop owned by one of the four defendants.

Pearl disappeared in Karachi on Jan. 23 while researching links between Pakistani militant groups and the so-called shoe bomber Richard Reid and Osama bin Laden's al Qaida network.

The rare appearance of two FBI agents before the court in less than a week shows Washington's "trust in our judicial system," said Pakistani Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider.

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Although not exactly endorsing Haider's views on the Pakistani judicial system, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters in Washington last week the United States wanted the court to complete the hearing and reach a judgment.

Washington had earlier urged Pakistan to extradite chief suspect Ahmed Omar Saeed Shaikh to the United States to stand trial before a grand jury in New Jersey.

The close cooperation between the United States and Pakistan on the Pearl case has caused both the Pakistani and the international media to speculate that, at this stage, Washington does not seem keen on bringing Omar to New Jersey.

Instead, they say, the Americans will be happy if Omar is convicted and punished in Pakistan. All four accused are charged with terrorism, kidnapping and murder, each punishable by death in Pakistan. They have pleaded not guilty.

Although the prosecution has based its case largely on circumstantial evidence, few in Pakistan doubt that the trial will end with convictions and death sentences for all the four accused.

Police have yet to find Pearl's body or the murder weapon. They don't yet know where or when the murder actually took place. They apparently have no witnesses to the killing.

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But despite these gaps in the prosecution's case, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has said he would like to see all the accused punished.

Apparently, the trial would have finished already and sentences awarded, if rights groups like Amnesty International had not criticized the trial as unfair to the defendants.

Usually an anti-terrorism court, like the one hearing the Pearl case, takes a week to 10 days to decide a case. This case has been lingering on for months.

The delay was first caused by security concerns. The initial hearing began in February inside a court building in Karachi. But was postponed when police said it had received information that Omar's militant supporters want to bomb the court building. The trial was moved to the Karachi central jail.

The hearing resumed in April inside the prison after several delays. But had to be postponed again when prosecution lawyers said defendants had made threatening gestures at them during the trial. The venue moved again, this time to another jail in the nearby city of Haiderabad.

Despite these delays, the court has moved fast. In two weeks, the prosecution gave its arguments, about a dozen prosecution witnesses recorded their statements and now defense lawyers have begun to cross-examine the witnesses.

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If there is no further delay, the cross-examination may end by early next week, and before the week ends, both sides could complete their final arguments. The court would then be ready to pass a judgment.

So far the most solid evidence presented before the court is the 195-minute video played on Tuesday. But even this video has several problems. It confirms Pearl's death but does not show who killed him. Those who have seen the video also say the reporter was already dead when the video was made.

The video shows a hand grabbing Pearl's hair from behind while another slashing his throat. "The body made no move and showed no reaction while its throat was being slashed," says defense lawyer Rai Bashir after watching the video. "It is obvious the video is a fake."

Delivered to the U.S. Consulate in Karachi on Feb. 13, the video was made by those who kidnapped and later killed Pearl, says chief prosecutor Raja Qureshi. They may have killed him first and then made the video but there is little doubt that they are the ones who killed him, he argues.

In normal circumstances, a court would have hesitated in admitting such evidence. But Pakistani observers say that political consideration will play a greater role than the actual evidence in deciding the fate of the accused.

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"We want to send a message, loud and clear, to all terrorists: Give up your arms and live like normal people. If not, be ready to face the consequences," said a Pakistani official who requested not to be identified.

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