KARACHI, Pakistan — Police have recovered e-mails linked to the kidnapping of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl from the computer hard drive of a suspect in the case, officials said Thursday.
The discovery of the e-mails is a major breakthrough in the case, providing a link to the chief suspect, Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh, a young Islamic militant and suspected member of a radical group linked to al-Qaida.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said investigators traced e-mails sent by the kidnappers to U.S. and Pakistani media a few days after the 38-year-old journalist disappeared to a service provider in an apartment complex in Karachi. The e-mails included photos of Pearl in captivity.
After a raid Sunday night, police detained three people and seized a laptop computer belonging to one of the residents, Farhad Naseem, according to police Inspector Qamer Ahmed.
The inspector said the two e-mails were recovered from Naseem’s laptop. Naseem, who remains in police custody, admitted receiving the e-mails from Saeed, the Muslim militant.
The owner of the service provider, Naeem Ahmad, said Naseem had erased his files and browser but had neglected to clean his hard drive, which contained the messages.
Saeed remains at large but several of his relatives have been detained — a common tactic used by Pakistani police to pressure suspects into surrendering.
Saeed, 27, who was born in the East End of London, has been linked to two militant groups — Jaish-e-Mohammed and Harkat ul-Mujahedeen. The United States considers both groups terrorist organizations with links to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida terror network.
Saeed was shot during his 1994 arrest in India in connection with a Kashmir kidnapping, undertaken to demand the release of Islamic militants fighting Indian rule in the contested Himalayan region. The three British backpackers were freed unharmed.
Although never brought to trial, Saeed spent the next five years in jail. India released him along with two other Islamic militants on Dec. 31, 1999, in exchange for passengers on an Indian Airlines jet hijacked to Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Pearl was abducted Jan. 23 on his way to a meeting at a Karachi restaurant with Muslim extremist contacts. He was believed looking into links between Pakistani militants and Richard C. Reid, the Briton who was arrested on a Dec. 22 flight between Paris and Miami with explosives in his shoe.
The kidnappers sent two e-mails with Pearl’s pictures on Jan. 27 and Jan. 30. After dismissing several other e-mails as hoaxes, Pakistani and U.S. investigators traced the two genuine e-mails to the Noman Grand City apartments in the middle-class Gulistan-e-Jahaur neighborhood of Karachi.
Ahmad, the complex’s service provider, said investigators traced the e-mails to his telephone number. He provides internet services to 70 clients in the apartment complex, including Naseem.
Investigators questioned each of the subscribers, Ahmad said, asking them to retrieve e-mails sent during the period when the kidnappers sent theirs.
“They had to check on each and every system. They asked each user to retrieve every e-mail they sent at that time,” he said.
Naseem denied sending any e-mails on those dates, Ahmad said, but records indicated otherwise. Naseem’s laptop was seized and a check of the hard drive turned up the e-mails, Ahmad said.
The e-mails were sent in the name of an unknown group — the National Movement for the Sovereignty of Pakistan. They showed photos of Pearl in handcuffs and demanded that Pakistani prisoners being held at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, be returned to Pakistan for trial.
The kidnapping has been embarrassing to the government of President Pervez Musharraf, which broke with Afghanistan’s former Taliban rulers after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and backed the United States in the war against terrorism. Last month, Musharraf banned five Islamic extremist groups, including Jaish-e-Mohammed and Harkat ul-Mujahedeen. Pakistani authorities hope to solve the case before Musharraf visits the United States next week.