Reports conflict on the fate of kidnapped journalist

Saturday, February 2, 2002

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Conflicting reports emerged Friday about the fate of reporter Daniel Pearl, with Pakistani police saying U.S. officials had received a ransom demand and a new e-mail claiming he had been killed.

A caller contacted the U.S. Consulate in Karachi and demanded $2 million and the release of the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, senior police officials said.

A Justice Department official subsequently said the telephone call may have been a hoax.

"We haven't reached any conclusions officially, but it looks like the call may have been a hoax," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

'We remain hopeful'

However, CNN spokeswoman Christa Robinson said it received an e-mail claiming the Wall Street Journal correspondent had been killed. CNN said the e-mail added that the unidentified group was "thirsty for the blood of another American." Fox News said it also received the e-mail.

Dow Jones, which owns the Journal, said in a statement, "We've seen the latest reports, and we remain hopeful they are not true."

A for the e-mail, the Justice Department official said the department still has reached no conclusions about veracity of claims that Pearl had been killed.

The department and other U.S. government agencies confirmed receiving a copy of the e-mail from the news media. Experts were studying it, but U.S. officials said they had no independent information on Pearl's status.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists issued a statement saying it was aware of the report about Pearl and hoped it would prove false, adding: "Our thoughts are with his family, his colleagues, and his many friends around the world."

Checking vacant lots

Residents of Karachi, a city of 12 million, said police vans were moving throughout the city late Friday and uniformed officers were seen checking vacant lots and graveyards.

The Pakistani police officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the anonymous caller gave the Americans 36 hours to meet the demand for money and the freeing of the envoy, Mullah Abdul Salaam Zaeef, who was arrested in Pakistan and turned over to U.S. authorities.

A U.S. State Department official in Washington said a telephone call was received by the US Embassy in Islamabad. The official declined to discuss the substance of the call.

Police insisted the call went to the U.S. Consulate, and there was no immediate explanation for the conflict.

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