KARACHI, Pakistan – An Al Qaeda suspect arrested along with alleged Sept. 11 organizer Ramzi Binalshibh has been identified as one of the killers of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, a senior police official said Tuesday.
The report is the strongest evidence yet of an Al Qaeda connection to Pearl's kidnapping and murder, but may complicate the government's case against four men already convicted of the crime.
The police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the identification was made by Fazal Karim, one of three Pakistanis held but not charged in the kidnap-slaying.
Karim was taken Friday to a Pakistani intelligence agency safe house where 10 suspects, including Binalshibh, were held, the police official said. The group, most of whom were Yemenis, were arrested in raids Sept. 10 and 11 in Karachi, authorities have said.
Karim identified one of the Yemenis as being part of a group of three Arabs who cut Pearl's throat three days after he tried to escape, the police official said.
The official refused to identify Pearl's alleged killer by name but said he was not among the five suspects, including Binalshibh, who were handed over to U.S. authorities Monday and flown out of the country.
Binalshibh is being interrogated by American officials at an undisclosed location. Officials want to learn what information he has on future terrorist attacks.
Pearl, 38, was kidnapped Jan. 23 in Karachi while researching links between Pakistani Islamic extremists and Richard C. Reid, who was arrested in December on a flight from Paris to Miami with explosives in his shoe.
Four militants, including British-born Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, were convicted of the crime in July. Saeed was sentenced to death by hanging and the other three received life sentences. All four have appealed.
While the trial was under way, police found Pearl's dismembered body in a shallow grave near an Islamic religious school in Karachi.
Police investigators, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they were led to the grave by Karim and two others -- Naeem Bukhari and Zubair Chishti -- who admitted a role in Pearl's kidnapping. The three have never been charged, and Pakistani authorities have not even acknowledged officially that they are being held.
The prosecution in the trial of Saeed and the others maintained that the discovery of the body was not essential to the case because the remains had not been identified. The government announced only after the trial that DNA results confirmed the remains were Pearl's.
Saeed's lawyer, Abdul Waheed Katpar, said he was unaware of the possibility that one of the Pearl killers was in custody. But if true, he said, "then my client is out," meaning that he would be freed.
"If at any stage a person makes a confession that he was behind the murder of Daniel Pearl, then my client will have a fit case for acquittal," Katpar said.
The government had always maintained that others were involved in the Pearl kidnapping and issued arrest warrants for seven people who remain at large.
Pakistani lawyers not involved in the case said that the emergence of new suspects could prompt the appeals court to order a new trial. The appeals were filed with the High Court of Sindh province but no date for a hearing has been set.
The defense could also claim that the prosecution withheld vital evidence by not producing Karim and the others at the first trial.
President Pervez Musharraf, meanwhile, told reporters in Karachi that the arrest of Binalshibh and the others shows that security forces have broken the back of terrorist networks in Pakistan.
"The recent action taken by the law enforcement agencies against terrorist networks, especially Al Qaeda, have improved the law and order situation in Pakistan," Musharraf said. "The police, the [paramilitary] Rangers and the intelligence agencies have broken the terrorist network."
Musharraf also said that Pakistan will send all Al Qaeda suspects "to the country where they are wanted" -- presumably the United States -- rather than prosecute them here.
Pakistani and U.S. intelligence officers taking part in the raids seized computers and several documents relating to several members of Usama bin Laden's family. The computers contained maps of U.S. cities and a flight simulator program. None of the items, however, are believed to provide new insight on whether bin Laden is alive or dead.
It was unclear who was referred to in the documents. At least three of bin Laden's sons have taken up their father's cause: Saad bin Laden is a rising leader in the Al Qaeda network; Mohammed and Ahmed also support their father's efforts, U.S. officials say.
Usama bin Laden's extended family, one of Saudi Arabia's richest, disowned him in 1994.
The last major terrorist incident in Pakistan took place last month when three gunmen attacked a Presbyterian hospital compound in Taxila, near Islamabad. Five people died, including one attacker.
Since then, however, police have announced a series of arrests of Islamic militants believed linked to attacks on Christian and Western interests in Pakistan.
They include suspects accused of bombing the U.S. Consulate in Karachi in June, plotting to kill Musharraf in April and planning attacks on Western fast-food outlets in Karachi.