ISLAMABAD, Pakistan An unknown Pakistani organization yesterday claimed in an e-mail message to be holding captive an American journalist who disappeared Wednesday.

The electronic message included four photographs purported to depict Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, 38, who has been the subject of a nationwide police search. In return for the release of Pearl, whom the group accused of being a CIA agent, the e-mail demanded the release of Pakistanis being detained at a U.S. naval base in Cuba on suspicion of terrorism.

Pakistani police heading the investigation said they believed the pictures were genuine. In one, which appears to be staged, the man believed to be Pearl is sitting in front of a blue curtain with his head bowed and wrists in chains. The arms of an unseen, white-robed man are shown one pointing a revolver at his head, the other clutching the captive”s hair.

The e-mail, written by a group calling itself the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty, was sent Saturday night to 31 addresses: The Washington Post, The New York Times and media and government agencies in Pakistan, Britain and the United Arab Emirates. Neither The Wall Street Journal nor its publisher, Dow Jones & Co., received the e-mail.

Pearl had been living in the Pakistani port city of Karachi reporting on news events in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, according to newspaper officials.

Police said Pearl was scheduled to meet Wednesday night with a representative of Harkat ul-Mujaheddin, a militant Islamic group that the U.S. government declared a terrorist organization after Sept. 11.

Pearl met two purported members of the group at a restaurant in downtown Karachi, then was told an interview with a higher-ranking official would be conducted at another location, police investigators said. They said he telephoned his wife and told her he would be home later for dinner. That was the last anyone has heard from Pearl, according to police.

Law-enforcement authorities say they believe the interview offer was a trap to snare Pearl, according to a senior police official of Sindh province, where Karachi is located.

Although Karachi is one of the most violence-prone cities in Pakistan, foreign journalists have not been targets of kidnappers there or elsewhere in this country.

Police said Saturday night”s e-mail was the first claim of responsibility for Pearl”s disappearance. They said they have never heard of the group and believe the name in the e-mail to be false.

“The National movement for the restoration of Pakistani sovereignty has captured CIA officer Daniel Pearl who has posing as a journalist of the Wall Street Journal,” the e-mail message began.

Wall Street Journal and Central Intelligence Agency officials have denied Pearl worked for the CIA.

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