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Three detained for false claims about journalist

An earlier e-mail contained photos of Pearl, including this one. Others showed him with a gun to his head.
An earlier e-mail contained photos of Pearl, including this one. Others showed him with a gun to his head.  

KARACHI, Pakistan (CNN) -- As friends and colleagues of Daniel Pearl sought proof the kidnapped American reporter is still alive, Pakistani police temporarily detained one young man and had two others in custody Saturday in connection with making false claims about Pearl's status, the country's interior minister said.

Police detained and released a young man in Islamabad, saying he was playing a prank when he called the U.S. Embassy a day earlier demanding a $2 million ransom within 36 hours in exchange for The Wall Street Journal reporter's release, according to Interior Minister Moeen Uddin Haider.

Police determined the man was not connected with any group, as he claimed in the phone call.

Two other young men were in custody Saturday in Karachi after authorities raided their home and confiscated their computers, Haider said.

The men were believed connected to several e-mails sent to news organizations claiming to have Pearl, who was abducted January 23.

News organizations received an e-mail on Friday, from a group claiming Pearl had been killed and his body dumped at one of Karachi's more than 200 cemeteries.

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The group also claimed it was "thirsty for the blood of another American." Police searched the city's graveyards and concluded the claim was false.

Conflicting e-mails were sent again Saturday to news organizations, but there was no way to verify their authenticity.

In an earlier e-mail that included pictures of Pearl at gunpoint, his abductors identified themselves as the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty.

They demanded the release of all Pakistanis held by the United States in the war on terrorism, including those at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The group accused Pearl of working for the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency. The group claimed they would kill him by Thursday, but extended the deadline to Friday.

Haider would not say to which of the e-mails the young men were linked, nor did he explain what led police to the youths. Pakistani police and FBI officials were questioning the men, Haider said.

Authorities were still working on the assumption Pearl is alive. A statement from the office of Pakistan's Home Secretary said the Pakistan government could "now rule out the possibility that he has been killed by the kidnappers."

A spokesman for the New York-based newspaper called on Pearl's captors "to demonstrate that Danny remains alive."

"They can do this by providing us with a photo of Danny holding today's newspaper," said Managing Editor Paul Steiger

U.S. officials said they were still on the case.

"We are trying to interpret and ascertain the facts surrounding this case," said Frederick Jones, a State Department spokesman.

"We are working in close cooperation with Pakistani officials. Mr. Pearl should be released immediately and unconditionally. His continued detention is no help to the cause of those who hold him."

Police officers search for Pearl early Saturday at the Gora cemetery in Karachi.
Police officers search for Pearl early Saturday at the Gora cemetery in Karachi.  

Pearl, 38, was working on a story about Richard Reid, the British man in U.S. custody accused of trying to blow up a plane with explosives hidden in his shoes.

Pearl was abducted while on his way to interview Sheikh Mubarik ali Gilani, head of the fundamentalist Islamic Jamaat ul-Fuqra group, about the group's possible ties with Reid.

Gilani turned himself in to police Wednesday, after police had called him their main suspect. Pakistani officials said Friday his status had changed because nothing had been found directly linking him to Pearl.

Pearl is married and lives in Karachi with his wife, who is several months pregnant.

On Saturday, former pop star Cat Stevens, who adopted Islam and changed his name to Yusuf Islam, released a plea for Pearl's safe return.

"As a message to those who are holding the journalist Daniel Pearl, I ask that the Mercy of Islam be shown," he said in a statement. "If justice is your goal, then the cause of justice will not be served by killing an innocent man who has nothing but a pen in his hand."

Imran Khan, a Pakistan politician and cricket player, also asked the kidnappers to let Pearl go.

"While I have consistently opposed the use of indiscriminate force, which has resulted in the loss of thousands of innocent lives in Afghanistan and the continued mistreatment of POWs, the abduction of Mr. Pearl would in no way help the cause of the innocent," he said. "As much as two wrongs don't ever make a right, Daniel Pearl's kidnapping is unlikely to help the innocent victims of the Afghan conflict."

-- CNN correspondents Kelly Wallace, Ash-har Quraishi and Ben Wedeman contributed to this report.




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