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Pearl suspect faces Pakistan murder charge

A 28-year-old Muslim militant, Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh, will be formally charged today with the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, the prosecutor in the case said Thursday evening.

The move is likely to complicate and possibly thwart American attempts to have Saeed handed over to the United States for prosecution.

The expected indictment will charge Saeed and three alleged accomplices with murder, kidnapping and terrorism, chief prosecutor Raja Quereshi said.

The case against Saeed relies heavily on the testimony of taxi driver Nasir Abbas, who told police he drove Pearl to a restaurant on Jan. 23 and saw him shake hands with Saeed, a British-educated Islamic militant, before getting into a car with him. Other evidence includes confessions from two of the accomplices as well as e-mails that included photographs of Pearl in captivity.

Pakistani officials said that a key factor in deciding _ at least for now _ against handing over Saeed to the Americans was the powerful Interservices Intelligence agency, which apparently feared that Saeed might reveal links between the agency and extremist Islamist groups.

A federal grand jury in New Jersey has indicted Saeed on charges of conspiring to take Pearl hostage and then kidnapping him. Saeed could face the death penalty if brought to the United States and convicted.

Saeed could face prosecution before a Pakistani antiterrorism court within seven days.

Terror price tag marked up

President Bush asked lawmakers Thursday for an additional $27.1-billion to finance the war on terrorism overseas and to buttress security at home.

The request is on top of $40-billion that Bush and Congress provided last fall as an initial response to the Sept. 11 attacks, an indication that the counterterrorism war at home and abroad is costing more than anticipated.

A request for additional funding had been expected, but the size of the request was significantly larger than the administration's early estimates of about $15-billion. It includes $14-billion for the Defense Department and intelligence agencies and $5.5-billion for homeland security efforts.

While the $67.1-billion total is a small fraction of the $2.1-trillion the government will spend this year, it would exceed the budgets of all but a few federal agencies.

Rumsfeld: Tribunals "fair'

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld on Thursday promised a "full and fair" system of military tribunals for those detained in the war against terror, but critics said the process is gravely flawed because it does not provide adequate steps for defendants to appeal convictions.

Rumsfeld formally unveiled the new ground-breaking rules for tribunals, which the Pentagon calls "commissions," but added that the plan is, for now, just a blueprint. He noted that no one has been charged and no tribunals have been formed to hear any cases.

Although 300 prisoners are being held at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba, and hundreds more in Central Asia, Rumsfeld could not say when _ or even if _ the new policy, known as Military Commission Order No. 1, will ever be used.

Numerous civil rights groups and other monitors said the rules fall short of protecting defendants, particularly if they cannot appeal their cases to the federal courts but must instead rely solely on the U.S. military for fairness.

Rumsfeld, however, said the tribunals should not be compared to military courts-martial or U.S. court trials because so much has changed since Sept. 11.

U.S. medics lend a hand

U.S. military medics flew into a combat zone Thursday to treat and evacuate seven Filipino soldiers wounded in a clash with Muslim extremists in the southern Philippines.

The fight broke out Thursday morning near the village of Bolansa on Basilan island.

It spread more than a mile to the nearby Upper Manggas area, close to where six U.S. Special Forces members bunk with 50 Filipinos in a sandbagged, hilltop base.

The clash with rebels of the Abu Sayyaf, an al-Qaida-linked group, is the third in the area since Friday. At least 12 Filipinos were wounded and one killed. The army says at least four guerrillas were killed, six captured and several wounded.

Other news

GOVERNMENT E-WARNING WAS WRONG: The ClearedPeople.com Web site offers to match defense employees with private-sector jobs requiring workers with security clearances.

But a Defense Department agency and an Air Force office sent e-mails last week that soon spread to U.S. defense installations nationwide, warning workers to stay away from ClearedPeople.com.

The warnings were effective, and ClearedPeople.com's president was deluged with hundreds of angry telephone calls and e-mails accusing him of being a terrorist.

The only problem is that ClearedPeople.com is not associated with a hostile intelligence service, government officials now say. They say the company is, as its Web site states, a job-search outfit based in suburban Reston, Va.

After a frantic call from the company president, Defense Information Systems Agency officials checked ClearedPeople.com and sent out a message last week retracting its earlier warning.

WEB SITE SAFETY: The White House has ordered government agencies to remove from Web sites and public documents any sensitive information, such as locations of nuclear materials, that might help terrorists.

White House chief of staff Andrew Card sent a memo to the heads of all agencies and executive departments this week directing them to immediately safeguard any government records that could help terrorists.

HAPPY NEW YEAR: The year 1381 dawned Thursday and tens of thousands of people in Kabul, Afghanistan, marched in parades, danced and threw picnics in a boisterous celebration of the Islamic calendar's new year, called Nowruz.

The holiday had been outlawed by the sternly fundamentalist Taliban.

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