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Was Pearl Kidnapping Part of a Wider Plot Against U.S.?

Aired February 23, 2002 - 12:05   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: On to another kidnapping case now, a murder investigation. Today's "New York Times" reports the kidnapping of Daniel Pearl was part of a wider plot against the U.S.

CNN's Chris Burns has that, and the intense search for Pearl's killers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Condemnation of the kidnapping and slaying of Daniel Pearl in newspapers across Pakistan today, as well the newspapers are reporting how the government plans to step up its crackdown, especially on those who did kidnap Daniel Pearl. But the president, Pervez Musharraf, avowing to liquidate the terrorists.

There is condemnation of Daniel Pearl's slaying by a key Muslim leader here in Pakistan, but also criticism of the government for its crackdown, and also for U.S. support of the government.

SYED MUNAWAR HASAN, RELIGIOUS LEADER: The American foreign policy (UNINTELLIGIBLE) around the globe that the Americans are supporting state terrorism, the state terrorism in Russia against China, against the Chechens, the state terrorism of India against Kashmiris, a state terrorism of Israelis against Palestinians. And Americans themselves have started doing that in Pakistan.

BURNS: The U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, however, defends Pakistan's policy to crack down on the militants and go after the kidnappers.

WENDY CHAMBERLIN, U.S. AMB. TO PAKISTAN: I am quite confident that this government from the top to the bottom has the political will, and we are seeing that. We are seeing that in results. We are seeing that in people, who are being apprehended and brought to justice.

BURNS: Investigators say they have important clues in the Daniel Pearl case that could lead them to more arrests. They also say that all field units of the provincial police have been directed to look for the dead body of Mr. Pearl, and that efforts to arrest the identified have been redoubled.

Now, one of the key suspects behind bars is Sheikh Omar Saeed. According to "The New York Times," Saeed told investigators that the kidnapping of Daniel Pearl was part of a wider plot that was also to include an attack on the U.S. consulate here in Karachi. No independent confirmation of that. However, a source close to the investigation tells CNN that Sheikh Omar Saeed told investigators that harming American interests, in his words, "was the primary goal."

More word from that could come during a hearing on Monday, where Sheikh Omar Saeed goes before the judge.

Chris Burns, CNN, Karachi, Pakistan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: The Bush administration is working closely with Pakistan to find Pearl's killers. CNN's Major Garrett is at the White House with more on that -- good morning there, Major.

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, Fredricka. And indeed, the U.S. government at the highest levels is talking with the Pakistani government also at its highest levels, not only about finding the suspects, finding the kidnappers and perpetrators of the murder of Daniel Pearl, but also negotiating with them extradition of those suspects to the United States.

Before Daniel Pearl was confirmed as a murder victim, those conversations were at a much lower, more general level. Now, the U.S. is very, very interested in obtaining those suspects and bringing them to the United States for trial. No resolution of that, but very high level discussions on that topic.

More broadly, Fredricka, the Bush administration knows that the killing of Daniel Pearl underscores the many perilous dimensions of the war on terrorism, and they now see that U.S. citizens, U.S. diplomats, U.S. businessmen could also become target around the world as the war on terrorism continues, and that has led to a reevaluation of U.S. policy as it deals with kidnapping.

The State Department announced this week that it has put together a new government-wide policy that any American kidnapped for any reason will now receive the full attention of the U.S. government. All government agencies, law enforcement, military and diplomatic will be involved in winning that person's rescue. Richard Boucher, the State Department spokesman, described that new policy at the briefing yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD BOUCHER, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: The circumstances in which Mr. Pearl found himself and his subsequent death make absolutely clear why this new policy -- why the policy for the United States has to be to look into every hostage-taking situation, to deal seriously with every hostage situation and mobilize every appropriate means to resolve these situations, and to make sure that there is no benefit from taking of hostages so that there is no encouragement to others to take hostages in the future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GARRETT: Fredricka, a key part of Richard Boucher's statement there is that no benefit be derived by hostage takers. While the U.S. government has been a little less than absolutely clear as to whether or not it would condone any private groups or private individuals providing financial incentives for those who might lead them to the release of any hostage taken in the future or might pay a degree of ransom. The official U.S. policy is that absolutely no. The U.S. government opposes any ransom payments, public or private, but nevertheless here in Washington, there are some who are looking at this policy restatement and wondering if it doesn't leave at least room for consideration of ransom.

Bob Graham, who is a Democrat from Florida, also the chairman of the Select Senate Intelligence Committee, who was interviewed on the CNN program "NOVAK, HUNT AND SHIELDS," said today, he believes there is now a possibility of ransom, and that might encourage more hostage taking.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BOB GRAHAM (D), FLORIDA: While this tragic situation is one of which we wished there had been some way to have saved Mr. Pearl, we would be putting more journalists and more Americans of all types of backgrounds at risk, if it were known that we would negotiate and pay for the release of kidnapped persons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GARRETT: Bottom line, Fredricka, the Bush administration knows this is a very delicate, very difficult policy to, A, articulate and, B, carry out, because in some respects, it doesn't want to be too specific. It doesn't want to tell anyone who has on his or her mind the idea of taking any American hostage exactly what the U.S. government will do -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Thanks a lot, Major. One question for you there too. One dimension of this very sordid investigation, there had been some grumblings perhaps that Musharraf was speculating that this kidnapping and murder might have been in retaliation for his effort to try to go after Muslim extremists. Has there been any reaction from the White House on that?

GARRETT: Well, it is interesting you mention that, Fredricka. When President Musharraf was here in the Oval Office just February 13, not more than two weeks ago, he said that those very things in the presence of President Bush. He said, "I have cracked down on extremists and militants in my own country. I expected some sort of resistance, perhaps some retaliation against the government." And he put the Daniel Pearl abduction in that exact category. He said, "I now see this as a reaction to what I am trying to do. I will carry forward with my effort to arrest and put under tremendous pressure militant extremists and militants within my own country."

The Bush administration understands that problem that President Musharraf has faced. They give him complete credit for full cooperation in the Daniel Pearl case and understand that this is now a very difficult thing for President Musharraf and his government to carry out as it shifts much more aggressively against extremists and militant factions within his own country. And that not only President Musharraf could be in political jeopardy, but other Americans in Pakistan. It makes the situation very complicated indeed.

WHITFIELD: Yes, complicated indeed. Thanks very much, Major Garrett from the White House this afternoon -- thank you.

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