Defense lawyers challenge videotaped death as 'fake'

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

HYDERABAD, Pakistan -- Four Islamic militants accused of kidnapping and murdering Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl appeared unmoved as a graphic videotape of his death was shown in court Tuesday, said defense lawyers who challenged the tape as a "fake."

The three-minute video -- which includes footage of Pearl with his throat cut -- was replayed in court three times, but the defendants were "calm" and "emotionless," said defense attorney Rai Bashir. Prosecutors refused to comment on the reaction within the courtroom.

Reporters are barred from attending the proceedings of the special anti-terrorism court being held inside the Hyderabad Central Jail. However, lawyers are allowed to brief journalists outside.

Bashir insisted that the tape was a fake and should not be admitted, but the judge dismissed defense objections.

The courtroom was silent during the video presentation, but for a sudden outburst from a spectator in the court who said in Urdu, "they're making a mountain out of a molehill," according to Abdel Waheed Katpar, the lawyer for the chief suspect in Pearl's killing, British-born Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh.

"As far as we were concerned, the video was manipulated. It was like watching a movie, like the 'X-Files' or 'Pearl Harbor,'" Waheed said in an interview afterward.

"The evidence on the clip shows that it's not Pearl himself, but his picture that has been slashed. The smile remained on Pearl's face despite his beheading," he said. "It is very easy to make such a video clip through computer graphics, as is commonly done by filmmakers."

Security around the jail was tight with sharpshooters on nearby rooftops.

Chief Prosecutor Raja Quereshi called in an FBI video expert, identified as John Falgon, who testified that he had helped in the investigation and had obtained a copy of the tape through a source.

The videotape that confirmed Pearl's death was delivered to U.S. officials in Karachi on Feb. 21 by someone described as a Pakistani journalist.

Excerpts broadcast by CBS News on Tuesday showed Pearl saying, "My father's Jewish. My mother's Jewish. I'm Jewish." Those statements were intercut with news clips showing scenes from the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

CBS also said some statements appeared to be edited together while others appeared to be recitations of lines given to Pearl by his captors.

CBS did not broadcast the segment of the tape showing Pearl's death. The network said the tape was circulating on the Internet.

According to investigators who have seen the tape, it shows someone cutting Pearl's throat while he is unconscious or already dead. The only face shown in the video is Pearl's.

According to Bashir, the video showed Pearl and there was an unintelligible voice in the background. The tape cuts away to images of Palestinian children in refugee camps. Two hands then appear behind Pearl, one grasping his head and the other slashing his neck. The body did not move or react, which made it appear that he already was dead, Bashir said.

The prosecution also asked the court to allow a commission to travel to London to get a statement from Marianne Pearl, the journalist's widow. The court will rule on the request Thursday.

The trial, which began April 22, was moved from Karachi because of security concerns. The city in southern Pakistan, where Pearl disappeared in January, is a base for Islamic militants, many of whom are angered by Pakistan's support for the U.S.-led war on terror in neighboring Afghanistan.

On Monday, an expert testified that written drafts of the e-mails sent by Pearl's kidnappers matched Saeed's handwriting and that of one of his alleged accomplices.

All four defendants have pleaded innocent to charges of kidnapping, murder and terrorism. If convicted, they could be sentenced to death.

Pearl, 38, disappeared while investigating a story linking Pakistani Islamic militants to Richard C. Reid, who was arrested in December on a flight from Paris to Miami with explosives in his shoes.

Two of the e-mails sent by Pearl's kidnappers to U.S. and Pakistani news organizations claimed to be from a previously unknown group called the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty.

An FBI expert told the court on Saturday that he had traced the e-mails to one of the four defendants and had examined the laptop from which they were sent, lawyers said. That expert will be recalled for cross-examination on Thursday.

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