Militant Convicted in Pearl Slaying Threatens Military Rulers

Sentenced to death for the kidnap and murder of American reporter Daniel Pearl, an Islamic militant threatened Pakistan's rulers Monday, saying "We shall see who will die first -- me or the authorities who have arranged the death sentence for me."

Made in a statement read by the defense after the conviction, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh proves that the trial had enraged Pakistan's Islamic militant movement, which considers President Pervez Musharraf a traitor for backing the United States in the war against terrorism

Musharraf should know "Allah is there and can get his revenge," said the statement by British-born Saeed, a 28-year-old former student at the London School of Economics. "Everybody is showing whether he is in favor of Islam or ... non-Muslims," in the jihad (holy war).

The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad went on a "heightened state of security readiness" after the verdict, spokesman John Kincannon said. Pakistani authorities braced for a violent reaction by Islamic extremists already angry over Musharraf's support for the United States in the war against terrorism. 

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States still has an interest in extraditing Saeed but would watch developments in Pakistan before deciding what to do. He urged Americans in Pakistan to remain vigilant about their safety.

Saeed and his co-defendants -- Salman Saqib, Fahad Naseem and Shaikh Adil -- sat motionless as Judge Ali Ashraf Shah announced his verdict.

All four were convicted of murder, kidnapping, conspiracy to kidnap and tampering with evidence. Saeed's three accomplices got life sentences -- which in Pakistan means 25 years in prison.

Defense lawyers said they would appeal, a process that could take months or years. The last prominent Islamic extremist to be executed in Pakistan, Haq Nawaz, was hanged Feb. 28, 2001, for killing an Iranian diplomat a decade earlier.

The Pakistani president has the authority to commute sentences to life.

The 38-year-old Pearl disappeared Jan. 23 in Karachi while researching Pakistan's Islamic extremist community, including possible links to Richard C. Reid, arrested in December on a flight from Paris to Miami with explosives in his shoes.

In February, a videotape received by U.S. diplomats confirmed Pearl was killed. A body believed to be Pearl's was found in May in a shallow grave in Karachi, but results from DNA tests have not been announced. Seven other suspects are at large.

Prosecutors said Saeed lured Pearl into a trap by promising to arrange an interview with an Islamic cleric who police believe was not involved in the conspiracy.

The defendants were also collectively fined $32,000. Chief prosecutor Raja Quereshi said the money would go to Pearl's widow Mariane and their son, who was born after his father was killed.

U.S. grand juries have indicted Saeed in the Pearl case and in the 1994 kidnapping in India of an American who was released unharmed.

"This is a further example of Pakistan showing leadership in the war against terror," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Monday.

The Pearl family, in a statement posted on its Web site, said it was "grateful for the tireless efforts" by U.S. and Pakistani authorities "to bring those guilty of Danny's kidnapping and murder to justice."

Saeed's father, Ahmed Saeed Sheikh, proclaimed his son's innocence and described the trial as a painful ordeal. "It's a horrible feeling," he said.

In London, Saeed's brother, Awais Sheikh, termed the conviction a "grotesque miscarriage of justice" and said the family "will not stand by and let one of its members be executed for a crime he did not commit."

The prosecution presented 23 witnesses, including taxi driver Nasir Abbas, who testified he saw Pearl get into a car with Saeed in front of a Karachi restaurant on the night the reporter vanished. The defense claimed the government coached the witness.

The defense produced only two character witnesses, Saeed's father and uncle.

The United Jehad Council, an organization of 15 Islamic militant groups, said the verdict "will definitely add to the hatred against America."

Although Pakistani authorities braced for a violent backlash, there were no reports of protests in the country late Monday. The trial began April 22 in Karachi but was moved here after prosecutors said they received death threats.

In Karachi, a hotbed of Islamic extremism, soldiers stopped and searched vehicles and police helicopters hovered above.

At Hyderabad Jail, police in camouflaged helmets, their rifles poised and ready, stood watch from nearby rooftops as the court went into session. Inside, about 500 police and paramilitary Rangers patrolled. About 2,000 security officers patrolled Hyderabad's rutted and chaotic streets.

Pearl's kidnapping was the first in a series of attacks against Westerners in Pakistan. On March 17, an attacker hurled grenades into Protestant church in the capital of Islamabad, killing himself and four others, including two Americans.

A bomb exploded May 8 in Karachi, killing 11 French engineers and three Pakistanis. Another explosion killed 12 Pakistanis outside the U.S. Consulate in Karachi on June 14. Last weekend, grenades were thrown at a bus carrying European tourists in northern Pakistan, injuring a dozen people, most of them Germans.

Police said the key break in the Pearl case came in February when the FBI traced e-mails sent to news organizations announcing the kidnapping. The e-mails, signed by the previously unknown National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty, demanded better treatment for Taliban and al-Qaida prisoners at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Agents traced the e-mails to Naseem, who led authorities to Saeed and the others, police said. Naseem's lawyer claimed his statement was coerced.

Saeed admitted his role in the kidnapping during a court appearance Feb. 14 but later recanted. The statement was not admissible because it was not made under oath.

"Right or wrong I had my reasons," Saeed told the court at the time. "I think that our country shouldn't be catering to America's needs."

On May 8, a car bomb at the Sheraton Hotel in Karachi killed 11 French engineers and three others, including the bomber. At least 12 Pakistanis were killed in a car-bombing June 14 in front of the U.S. Consulate in Karachi. 

A dozen people, including nine Germans and Austrians, were injured Saturday in an apparent grenade attack at an archaeological site north of Islamabad. 

Saeed was believed to have links with some of the country's most violent Islamic extremist groups. He joined militant Islamic movements after traveling to the Balkans about 10 years ago. After training in Afghanistan, he went to India, where he was arrested in 1994 for kidnapping three Britons and an American. 

He was freed in December 1999 along with two other Islamic militants in exchange for the passengers and crew of an Indian Airlines jet that was hijacked to Kandahar, Afghanistan. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.