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Tom Mintier: Backlash a fear after Pearl verdicts

CNN's Tom Mintier
CNN's Tom Mintier  

(CNN) -- The man convicted of masterminding the plan to kill Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl has been sentenced to die, and three others received life sentences Monday from a Pakistan court.

CNN Correspondent Tom Mintier spoke Monday with CNN anchor Paula Zahn about the reaction to the convictions of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and three accomplices.

MINTIER: This trial has lasted well over 12 weeks and an extra week for the judge to make his decision. The defense attorneys and the prosecution made their closing statements a week ago. The judge said he was going to reserve his verdict, which is normal under a trial like this. He came back [Monday] morning and issued his verdict very quickly. ...

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Security was tight in Hyderabad as the judge ... handed down the guilty verdicts.

All four defendants were found guilty, but only one, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, also known simply as Sheikh Omar, was given the harshest sentence: death. The death penalty in Pakistan is traditionally carried out by hanging.

The first reaction came from The Wall Street Journal, Daniel Pearl's employer: "We continue to mourn Danny Pearl, and we continue to hope that everyone responsible for his kidnapping and murder will be brought to justice. Today's verdict is one step in that direction."

A step that brought a threat from the man sentenced to die, Sheikh Omar. It was delivered by his attorney, "I will see whether who wants to kill me will first kill me or get himself killed." The message went on to say, "It is a decisive war between Islam and Kafir," a word used to describe infidels or non-Muslims, "and everyone is individually proving on which side he is."

The chief prosecutor in the case, who asked the court for the death penalty for all four defendants, says this was a case of terrorism. ...

The next move in the case will be the filing of appeals by defense attorneys to Pakistan's high court, an appeal expected to be launched within a week's time.

Sheikh Omar is said to have had strong links to Muslim fundamentalist groups since he dropped out of the London School of Economics in 1993. He is currently under indictment by U.S. courts for kidnapping charges of American tourists in South Asia. He was in prison in India until he was released in exchange for hostages during a hijacking of an Air India flight that ended up in Afghanistan on New Year's Eve 1999.

Omar was reported to have slipped into Pakistan after the hijacking and surfaced when he was arrested in February and charged with the kidnapping and killing of ... Daniel Pearl.

A body believed to be Pearl's was discovered in a shallow grave in Karachi on May 17. DNA tests on the remains have not been made public and were not presented in court during the trial. ...

In addition to the appeals process, there is the possibility of even more trials. Police in Pakistan say they are seeking at least six other suspects who may have been more directly involved with the death of Daniel Pearl.

Now, while Daniel Pearl's family has not reacted to the verdict, on their Web site was a statement from the family thanking Pakistani and U.S. authorities for all of their tireless efforts to bring the attackers to justice. "Today's verdict is the first chapter in this process," the statement from the family read on the Web site.

ZAHN: Tom, now that this verdict has had a chance to sink in, what has been the reaction by and large as you have walked around and talked with the locals there?

MINTIER: I think there is a deep concern in at least some segments of the population that there may be some kind of backlash for this verdict.

By sentencing one of the Islamic militants to death, it may be seen -- and the words we heard from Sheikh Omar were rather threatening ... -- to the potential of something happening in retaliation for both the trial, the verdict and the sentence.

ZAHN: An appeal was expected, was it not, if these guilty verdicts came down?

MINTIER: Most definitely. When we talked to the defense attorneys almost a week ago, they said no matter what happens, they expected it to be appealed. If they got an acquittal, they expected the government to move forward very quickly.

And I am also told that the high court in Pakistan will sit right away. Their docket has been cleared by the government. They had been prepared for this case, and they will hear it almost immediately.

And I am also told that they will hear it nonstop. There will not be any delays or breaks -- that this will simply be an appeal to the high court and will happen very quickly.




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