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Pearl suspect appears in Pakistan court

For the first time, Saeed was brought into court Friday without a hood.
For the first time, Saeed was brought into court Friday without a hood.  

From Ash-har Quraishi
CNN Islamabad Bureau

KARACHI, Pakistan (CNN) -- The man accused of masterminding the kidnapping and murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl appeared in a brief closed-door court session Friday.

Under heavy security, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh was brought into the courtroom shortly before noon (2 a.m. ET) without a hood covering his face for the first time in his numerous appearances.

Another suspect, Sheikh Adil, also appeared at Friday's court session, but the two other suspects in police custody -- Salman Saquib and his brother, Fahad Naseem -- did not.

The judge accepted the charge sheet against the suspects and set April 5 as the next court date. On that day, all four suspects are expected to appear and the judge will determine if there is enough evidence to go to trial. The trial could begin that day.

The judge also approved the prosecution's request for the trial to take place in Karachi's central jail for security reasons. The defense plans to appeal that decision.

Saeed has been charged with kidnapping for ransom, murder, and acts of terrorism. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

Saeed had originally said he would act as his own attorney, but he was appointed new counsel during Friday's court appearance.

According to the prosecution, the charges are based on evidence in a videotape and circumstantial evidence, including the testimony of a taxicab driver who dropped Pearl off at a restaurant on January 23. There, the driver says he saw Saeed meet the Wall Street Journal reporter.

On February 21, the U.S. State Department confirmed that Pearl was killed, based on a videotape showing his body, which has not yet been found.

Chief prosecutor Raja Qureshi said Friday that "the entire case will hinge on circumstantial evidence and expert testimony."

Saeed's father, who appeared in the court for first time Friday, said his son was not guilty.

"I only want him to receive a fair trial and hope that justice will be done," he said.

Eleven suspects have been charged in connection with Pearl's kidnapping and death, but only four of them are in custody.

Saeed has admitted in court that he orchestrated the plot against Pearl. Because his statement was not made under oath, it is not clear whether it can be used as evidence or not.

U.S. officials have said they would like to extradite Saeed from Pakistan so he can stand trial in the United States, but Pakistani officials said the case must first run its course in their nation.

Saeed has been indicted by a federal grand jury in New Jersey on one count of hostage-taking resulting in Pearl's death and one count of conspiracy to commit hostage-taking resulting in Pearl's death.




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