- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 6, 2002

The prime suspect in the killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was a college student in London when a sectarian war in the heart of Europe lured him to a life of Islamic militancy.

According to interviews and Indian intelligence documents obtained by the Associated Press, Ahmed Omar Saeed was radicalized by the people he met and the things he learned on the way to Bosnia. After a trip to the Balkans in 1993, he dropped out of a prestigious British university and headed for the training camps of Afghanistan.

Saeed has been charged in the United States and Pakistan with the kidnapping and killing of Mr. Pearl, the 38-year-old reporter who was abducted Jan. 23 while working on a story about Muslim extremists in Pakistan.

The United States is seeking Saeed's extradition. A judge in Karachi, Pakistan, opened the trial of Saeed and three others yesterday, but quickly adjourned the proceedings for a week to give prosecutors time to turn over key evidence. It is not clear whether Pakistan will be willing to hand him over to U.S. custody.

It is the second time the British-born Saeed has been charged with kidnapping a U.S. citizen. In November, he was secretly indicted in the United States for the 1994 kidnapping of four Westerners in India, including Bela Nuss of California. He spent five years in an Indian jail for those kidnappings.

Saeed was born on Dec. 23, 1973, six years after his father, a clothing merchant, moved to London from a village near Lahore, Pakistan.

Growing up in a middle-class home in Wanstead, east London, the young Saeed went to private schools, won a junior chess championship and competed in an international arm-wrestling competition.

His English upbringing was briefly interrupted at age 13 when his father moved the family back to Lahore for two years while he tried several business ventures with relatives, including a chemical factory. All failed.

Returning to London, the youngster completed his college-entrance requirements at the private Forest School and won admission to the influential London School of Economics in the fall of 1992.

George Paytner, Saeed's high-school economics teacher, remembered him as "a good, strong academic candidate and a very personable human being." Mr. Paytner told AP that Saeed was a leader in the class and always the first to volunteer. "What a terrible waste of tremendous human potential."

At college, Saeed joined the Islamic Society. According to a classified Indian intelligence file obtained by AP, Saeed told investigators he was moved by a film at the Islamic Society on the plight of Bosnian Muslims during the Yugoslav civil war.

"It shook my heart," Saeed wrote while he was in jail in India.

The 19 pages of diary-like notes that Saeed kept in jail were obtained through court records in India. He described organizing a campus conference on Bosnia in 1993 and joining the London-based Muslim charity Convoy of Mercy on a trip to Bosnia later that year.

Asad Khan, who runs Convoy of Mercy, said he believes Saeed was influenced by a speech Mr. Khan gave on Bosnia. "After the talk, two or three students came up and said they wanted to go, and he was one of them," Mr. Khan said.

Mr. Khan remembers Saeed as "a very nice man gentle, polite. The kind of person you'd want your sister to marry."

But Saeed never made it to Bosnia on that trip. "By the time we got to Croatia, he was sick as a puppy," Mr. Khan said.

Mr. Khan said he can understand Saeed's sense of injustice, but not his suspected actions. "Muslims look around the world and they see themselves being persecuted everywhere. All of us come to the same conclusion, but we do different things."

Mohammed el-Durrat, current chairman of the Islamic Society at the London School of Economics, said a lot of students mostly Muslims who grew up in the West tend to change when they come back from these trips. "The impact is sometimes more profound than one would expect."

Saeed told Indian interrogators it was during the trip with Convoy of Mercy that he met members of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, a militant Pakistani organization linked to Osama bin Laden. He left college and joined the group in Pakistan.

He studied weapons training, hand-to-hand combat, surveillance methods, the art of disguise and how to plan an operation. He received religious education and was introduced to other militant leaders and fighters.

"In the beginning of April 1994, I went to Afghanistan via Pakistan on my British passport. First, I did a refresher course, and because of the shortage of instructors at the training camp, I was asked to take [the] role of instructor," Saeed wrote.

He returned briefly to Britain to recruit young Muslims and then set off for India, where he orchestrated the kidnapping of Miss Nuss and three British citizens. In October, Indian police raided the hide-out where the hostages were being held and arrested Saeed.

He spent the next five years in Indian custody, charged with abduction, conspiracy and war against the state. But India let him go Dec. 31, 1999, in exchange for 155 passengers and crew aboard a hijacked Indian Airlines jet parked in what was then Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. The plane was apparently commandeered after it took off from Nepal by members of Jaish-e-Mohammed, a radical group banned in January by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

Once freed, Saeed apparently crossed back into Pakistan and joined his family in Lahore. There, he married and moved into a gated compound on Mohni Road. The house is a spacious, two-story, whitewashed home with a courtyard and garden. There's cable TV in almost every room except Saeed's bedroom, which is littered with old newspapers and religious books.

On Feb. 6, two weeks after Mr. Pearl went missing, Pakistani police publicly identified Saeed as a prime suspect in the kidnapping. He was arrested six days later and flown to Karachi, where he has appeared in court. At one point, he confessed to abducting Mr. Pearl, but then withdrew the statement.


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