NEW YORK – Mariane Pearl, a French freelance journalist who is six months pregnant, last heard from her husband when he called her at their Pakistan home to say he would be late for dinner.
Four days later, e-mailed photographs brought news that relatives of foreign correspondents dread: The Wall Street Journal reporter had been shackled by chains. One image shows a gun pointed at his head.
Daniel Pearl, 38, vanished last Wednesday after going to meet with members of a radical Islamic group in Karachi for a story on terrorism, the newspaper said.
His whereabouts were unknown until Sunday, when several news organizations received photos of Pearl from a group calling itself the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty, which claimed responsibility for the disappearance.
"He was a journalist just trying to do his job. This is a serious matter, and it is being pursued by the United States government," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
The Journal faced a dilemma familiar to other news organizations and companies when employees are kidnapped — whether to go public in hopes of pressuring the abductors or keep a low profile and seek their release through quiet diplomacy.
Steve Goldstein, a vice president and spokesman for Dow Jones, the Journal's parent organization, declined to comment on specifics of the case or efforts to obtain Pearl's freedom.
"Our concern is getting Danny released and back to his wife," Goldstein said by e-mail. "We have had no contact with anyone holding Danny. The U.S. government and the Pakistani government are working together to secure his release, and we remain hopeful."
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed the case in a telephone conversation with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on Monday and "noted our strong interest in seeing it resolved."
Boucher said Musharraf assured Powell that Pakistan "is making every effort" to find and free Pearl, a 12-year Journal staff reporter who has worked in Atlanta, Washington and London, and has been based in India for about a year.
Sources close to the family, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Mariane Pearl had been advised by the FBI not to discuss the case publicly. Goldstein said the Journal decided to channel all family queries through his office.
"She is six months pregnant and is waiting for her husband to return. People need to respect her privacy," Goldstein said. "Our concern is getting Danny released and back to his wife."
Sunday's e-mail was sent to nearly three dozen addresses at U.S. newspapers and media and government agencies in the United States, Britain and the Persian Gulf.
It alleged that Pearl worked for the CIA — a claim denied by the agency and the Journal — and issued demands including better treatment for Pakistanis among the terrorist suspects held by the United States in Cuba and release of the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan.
The group also sent an attachment demanding that F-16 fighter jets purchased by Pakistan in the 1980s be released. The planes were never delivered because of U.S. sanctions related to Islamabad's nuclear-weapons program.
Pakistani police sources, speaking anonymously, said they had never heard of the group that claimed responsibility. They said the abductors more likely were from Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, a radical group on the U.S. government's terrorist list and believed to have links to Al Qaeda.
On Monday, Pakistani police sources said Pearl had met in the first week of January with five Pakistanis, in Rawalpindi, who promised him an interview in Karachi with Mubarak Ali Shah Gilani, leader of another small radical Muslim group, Tanzaimul Fuqra, also suspected of having Al Qaeda ties.
The sources, declining to be named, said police identified and detained the five men. When they proved they had not been in Rawalpindi, officials concluded that Pearl had been set up by others, using false names, the sources said.
On Wednesday, Pearl left the home in Karachi where he and his wife were staying and headed for an appointment with his contact at a downtown restaurant, the sources said. During a brief stop at a citizen-police liaison office, he received a telephone call confirming the meeting and left for the restaurant.
Police established that the call came from a mobile phone, but because it was recently purchased and used for only that call, it has been of no help in finding leads to the mystery caller, the sources said.