Militant leader held over Daniel Pearl beheading

A FORMER militant leader has been arrested by the authorities in Pakistan in connection with the 2002 ­beheading of American reporter Daniel Pearl, it was confirmed yesterday.

Qari Abdul Hai was captured during a major operation on Sunday in Karachi, a senior Pakistani police official said.

Hai, who used the alias Asadullah, was once chief of the outlawed Sunni militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ).

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Mr Pearl, a reporter with the Wall Street Journal, was kidnapped in January 2002 while on his way to interview a ­Pakistani militant.

He was later decapitated and video footage of his death was sent to senior officials in the US and posted online.

The journalist’s family yesterday welcomed news of the former terror leader’s arrest.

In a statement, his family said: “We are gratified with this latest arrest and hope that justice will be served in a timely manner on all those who were involved in the abduction and murder of our son, Danny.”

Mr Pearl had been in Karachi while researching a story on Islamist militants in the months after the 11 September 2001 attacks in the US.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the al-Qaeda militant who claimed responsibility for the US terror attacks, said he ­beheaded Mr Pearl after his ­abduction.

Officials have not revealed what role Hai is suspected of playing in the journalist’s abduction and murder but believe he was involved.

The LeJ has emerged as a major security threat in Pakistan, officials have said. It has claimed responsibility for a series of bombings that killed hundreds of Shiites this year.

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Security officials yesterday said Hai was linked to several attacks on western targets since Mr Pearl’s murder in Pakistan.

A Pakistani court sentenced Omar Sheikh, a British national of Pakistani origin, to death by hanging for the abduction and killing of Mr Pearl.

US State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Gosselin said: “The US is firmly committed to identifying all the perpetrators involved in Mr Pearl’s murder and bringing them to justice.”

The arrest of Hai is being described as a major breakthrough in the ongoing anti-terror drive of the law enforcement agencies.

He was wanted in connection with several major terrorist ­assaults targeting western interests in Pakistan.

US intelligence officials stationed in Pakistan had sought Hai’s arrest back in 2002 following reports that he had masterminded a plot in December that year to target some high-profile US diplomats based in the port city of Karachi.

The attack could not be carried it out because of an accidental blast at an explosives warehouse in Karachi, which killed Hai’s right-hand man, Asif Ramzi, a suspected al-Qaeda ­associate.

Hai has also been linked with helping mastermind the 8 May 2002 suicide bombing of the Sheraton Hotel in Karachi in which several French and ­Pakastani naval engineers were killed.