Israeli officials are angrily dismissing claims that the Wall Street Journal reporter abducted in Pakistan works for the Mossad, Israel's foreign intelligence service.
The presumed Pakistani kidnappers of Daniel Pearl said Wednesday they would kill him within 24 hours because they believe he is affiliated with the Mossad.
Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, called the claims "ridiculous," "rubbish" and "totally unfounded."
"There are some people who will say that Israel and the Jews are behind every calamity," he said.
E-mails sent from men claiming to be holding Pearl since last week previously accused the journalist of working for the CIA.
"We have interrogated Mr. D. Pearl and have come to the conclusion that contrary to what we thought earlier, he is not working for the CIA," the kidnappers wrote in an e-mail sent Wednesday to Western and Pakistani news organizations. "In fact, he is working for Mossad, therefore we will execute him within 24 hours unless America fulfills our demands."
Included in the message was a warning for other American journalists to leave Pakistan within three days or become a target.
They are threatening to kill Pearl unless their demands, including the freeing of all Pakistani detainees held by the United States in connection with the war against terrorism, are met.
The e-mails have been sent along with pictures of Pearl, and the threats are being taken seriously. The group calls itself the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty.
State Department officials said they have been working with Pakistani authorities to try to obtain Pearl's release.
On Wednesday, Pakistan officials said they had arrested Sheik Mubarik Ali Gilani, the leader of a small Muslim fundamentalist group whom Pearl was apparently attempting to interview.
The White House on Wednesday said it had no new information on Pearl.
American Jewish officials are reluctant to comment on Pearl, worried that any statements might further endanger him.
"It's easy to scapegoat and rally people behind that charge," said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. "Once you accuse him of being a CIA agent, the American government knows he is or he isn't," said Hoenlein, who knows Pearl.
"Once you accuse him of being a Mossad agent, it's their word against Israel's denial."
Jewish officials originally believed that Pearl's capture was unrelated to the fact that he is Jewish, until his captors tried to link him to Mossad.
"It's part of the same sick conspiratorial lunacy that blames Mossad and Israel for the destruction of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon," said Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League.
"We hope and pray that rational minds will prevail and see the wrong of their assumptions, and that he will walk out of there in safety."
Gilani reportedly had ties to Richard Reid, the man accused of attempting to ignite an explosive device in his shoe aboard an American airplane last month.
Pearl, 38, is the paper's South Asian correspondent and lives in Karachi with his wife, Mariane, a French freelance journalist who is six months pregnant.
In a prepared statement released this week, the Wall Street Journal said Pearl was a U.S. citizen born in the United States, has been a working journalist all of his adult life and is not an agent of any government or agency.
"His writing has always been respectful of Islam and the people of Pakistan," the paper's statement said.
The Wall Street Journal's managing editor has sent an e-mail to the same address the kidnappers are using, pleading for his safe return.
Pearl, who was born in Princeton, N.J., has been working for the Wall Street Journal since November 1990, where he started covering transportation and telecommunications in the Atlanta and Washington bureaus.
He moved to the Wall Street Journal's London bureau in 1996 to write about the Middle East. Three years later he moved to Paris, where he continued to write about the Middle East, and then moved to the paper's Bombay bureau in December 2000.
Two days before he was abducted, Pearl co-wrote a piece with another Wall Street Journal reporter about Pakistan removing Islamic groups from the disputed region of Kashmir, the area claimed by both India and Pakistan.
In a Jan. 28 article, the Wall Street Journal said Pearl is "experienced working in dangerous places and is known among his colleagues for his cautious approach to reporting and concern for safety."
Pearl drew up safety guidelines for the paper's overseas staff and encouraged other reporters to check in repeatedly with editors.
JTA correspondent Sharon Samber in Washington and JTA staff writer Rachel Pomerance in New York contributed to this report.