- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 23, 2002

KARACHI, Pakistan A taxi driver testified yesterday that he saw Daniel Pearl get into a car with an Islamic militant the day the Wall Street Journal reporter vanished.

The testimony, on the first day of proceedings against the British-born Ahmed Omar Saeed and three co-defendants, came after the four pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, kidnapping and terrorism in Mr. Pearl's kidnap-slaying.

The trial was closed to the press and members of the public, but relatives of the defendants were allowed in.

The taxi driver, Nasir Abbas, testified that on Jan. 23 he drove Mr. Pearl to the Metropole Hotel in downtown Karachi after taking him to a previous appointment, according to the chief prosecutor and a defense attorney.

Mr. Abbas said a white sedan pulled up near the hotel and Saeed got out and shook hands with Mr. Pearl. They both then got into Saeed's car, chief prosecutor Raja Quereshi said Mr. Abbas told the court.

Khawaja Naveed Ahmed, who represents two of Saeed's co-defendants, said Mr. Abbas testified that "Pearl got into the car, which whisked him away."

Mr. Pearl, the Journal's South Asia correspondent, disappeared that day while researching links between Pakistani militants and Richard C. Reid, the man arrested in December on a Paris-Miami flight and charged with carrying explosives in his shoes.

A few days later, e-mails sent by the previously unknown National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty announced Mr. Pearl's kidnapping and showed pictures of him in captivity.

In reading the indictment against the four men, Judge Abdul Ghafoor Memon said Mr. Pearl was killed Jan. 30, the day the group sent a second e-mail warning Mr. Pearl would be killed within 24 hours.

A videotape received by U.S. diplomats Feb. 21 confirmed that the 38-year-old Mr. Pearl was dead. His body has not been found.

U.S. investigators traced the e-mails to one of the defendants, Fahad Naseem, who in turn identified Saeed as the mastermind, police said.

Salman Saqib and former policeman Sheik Mohammed Adeel are also on trial.

The court also discussed the possibility of Mr. Pearl's widow, Mariane, being allowed to testify in a written deposition, but no decision was made on whether she would even be called as a witness. Mrs. Pearl, who lives in France, is about to give birth to the couple's first child.

The trial is being held inside Karachi Central Jail to avoid having to move the prisoners back and forth from a courtroom. Some 70 additional officers have been added to guard the jail because there are fears that cohorts of the suspects "might try to free them or even kill them," said Amanullah Niazi, deputy superintendent of police at the jail.

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