WASHINGTON, Aug 4: Authorities in Pakistan are reluctant to announce the arrest of four suspects who they believe killed American journalist Daniel Pearl because they fear the disclosure at this stage may force the retrial of an earlier case in which four others have already been convicted, Pakistani security officials told Dawn.

They said all four suspects belong to the Akram Lahori group of a sectarian organization, Lashkar-i-Jhangvi. Their leader, Akram Lahori, was also arrested last month from Karachi.

“We know that they killed Pearl but we do not want to say so yet. We do not want a retrial of the earlier case,” said a senior security official.

On July 15, an anti-terrorism court in Hyderabad convicted four men for kidnapping and murdering Pearl. Chief suspect Ahmad Omar Saeed Shaikh, better known as Shaikh Omar, was sentenced to death while three others were sent to jail for life.

According to the Pakistani anti-terrorism laws, kidnapping, helping kidnappers or involvement in similar terrorist activities is also punishable with death or life imprisonment.

“That’s why we do not believe that the conviction of Omar and his three accomplices is unjust,” another security official said. “But a major disclosure, like the arrest of four suspects for the murder, is bound to cause a retrial and we want to avoid this,” he said.

“The trial was already a nightmare. Throughout the trial the suspects kept on threatening our officers. We do not want to go through this again.”

He said the police have collected enough evidence to prove that the four new suspects are responsible for killing Pearl while Omar and his gang carried out the abduction.

The officials described Omar and another convict, Shaikh Adil, as “hardened militants” but said that the two others — Salman Saquib and Fahad Nasim — got involved because they were related to Adil.

Now the police believe that Omar masterminded and carried out the abduction while Lahori and another accomplice Ataur Rahman — who is also in police custody now — carried out the assassination.

Police officials in Pakistan say that Lahori and his gang, which is also blamed for scores of targeted sectarian killings, have been linked to the Taliban and Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network.

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