Technology Helps Track Kidnappers in Pakistan

Thirteen years ago, a Pakistani engineer and textile magnate named Jameel Yusuf formed a nonprofit group, known as the Citizens'-Police Liaison Committee, to help reduce kidnappings in Karachi, Pakistan, and this group reportedly has helped police reduce kidnappings in Karachi by 75%. The non-profit group exists from 70% private donations, with the remaining 30% coming from the Pakistani government. Mr. Yusuf relied on his engineering background to methodically compile a list of Karachi's main criminal gang members, gathered recordings of members' voices, studied their habits and behavior, and created a database to track members activities as they were released from various prisons. Since 1989, the group has been involved in handling 275 kidnapping cases, with 80% of the cases ending in arrest and a very low victim mortality rate.

Yusuf's group relies primarily on a computer program that tracks messages of ransom demands that are made from cell phones and pay telephones. The group's success has made Yusuf a target of extremists, as well as an important contact for foreign journalists seeking information about the criminal and militant underground in Karachi. Yusuf was apparently the last person to see Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped and murdered this year, alive. Pearl received a cell phone call while he was interviewing Yusuf and disappeared after leaving Yusuf's office. Sifting through thousands of telephone records, Yusuf and Pakistani investigators eventually traced the call's origin to a British militant, who was subsequently convicted of Pearl's kidnapping and murder. Yusuf says the Citizens'-Police Liaison group's success shows that private citizens' efforts are extremely important to help resources-strapped police departments solve and investigate crimes, and that if they can be successful in Karachi, these methods could work anywhere.

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