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Pakistan orders release of man convicted in beheaded American journalist’s death

Undated photo shows Daniel Pearl, a Wall Street Journal newspaper reporter kidnapped by Islamic militants in Karachi, Pakistan. (Getty Images/TNS)
January 29, 2021

A Pakistani man convicted and later acquitted of helping kidnap and kill American journalist Daniel Pearl is set to be released following a Pakistan Supreme Court ruling Thursday.

The Associated Press reported that the court ordered Ahmad Saeed Omar Sheikh’s release and also dismissed an appeal filed by Pearl’s family and the Pakistani government seeking to reverse the acquittal.  

“The Pearl family is in complete shock by the majority decision of the Supreme Court of Pakistan to acquit and release Ahmed Omer Sheikh and the other accused persons who kidnapped and killed Daniel Pearl,” the Pearl family said in a statement released by their lawyer, Faisal Siddiqi.

Murtaza Wahab, the province of Sindh’s law minister, told the AP that the “Supreme Court is the court of last resort,” and with all options exhausted, Sheikh could be released within days

In 2002, Sheikh was found guilty of helping kidnap, kill and dismember Pearl in Karachi. The Wall Street Journal reporter’s body was found in a shallow grave after a video of his beheading was sent to the U.S. Consulate in Karachi.

In a 2019 letter, Sheikh admitted to being involved in Pearl’s beheading, but the Pakistani suspect’s lawyers only confirmed their client wrote it this week, the Associated Press reported. Despite the recent evidence, the three-judge Supreme Court voted 2-1 to uphold Sheikh’s acquittal, ordering his release, the Peal family’s lawyer said.

Sheikh’s attorney praised the court’s decision to release his client, adding that three other Pakistanis who were sentenced to life in prison for taking part in Pearl’s death were also ordered to be released.

According to the attorney, Fahad Naseem, Sheikh Adil and Salman Saqib played less impactful roles, including providing a laptop and internet access so photos of Pearl with a gun to his head could be released.

“These people should not have been in prison even for one day, Mehmood A. Sheikh said. “I expect the Sindh government will not make a mockery of justice by continuing…to not release them for no good reason whatsoever.”

If the acquittal is upheld, Washington has said they would attempt to have Sheikh extradited to the U.S. for a trial.

Acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson said in a statement that the Department of Justice was “deeply concerned” by the Pakistani Supreme Court’s ruling.

“Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh has long been indicted in the United States and must be held accountable for his crimes.  The release of those involved would be an affront to Daniel Pearl’s family, to other terrorism victims around the world, and to the cause of justice,” the statement read.