Pakistan Judges set free British Islamist jailed for beheading US reporter

Judges set free British Islamist jailed for beheading US reporter Daniel Pearl

A British-born militant who served 18 years on death row for the beheading of the American journalist Daniel Pearl is to walk free after Pakistan’s highest court ordered his release yesterday, a decision denounced by the reporter’s family as a travesty of justice.

Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, 47, was convicted in 2002 of murdering the Wall Street Journal reporter, but his sentence was overturned last year. Dismissing an appeal against that ruling by Mr Pearl’s family yesterday, the Supreme Court acquitted Mr Sheikh. Three other Pakistanis serving life in prison for involvement in Mr Pearl’s kidnapping and murder were also freed.

The United States voiced its outrage over the ruling. The court’s decision is an affront to terrorism victims everywhere, including in Pakistan, Antony Blinken, the secretary of state, said.

Mr Pearl’s family have pleaded for the US to intervene. They argue that Mr Sheikh was the architect of the plot that resulted in the journalist being beheaded with a knife. The killing, a video of which was released online, was the first of its kind.

Today’s decision is a complete travesty of justice and the release of these killers endangers journalists everywhere and the people of Pakistan, Mr Pearl’s parents, Ruth and Judea, said yesterday. We urge the US government to take all necessary actions to correct this injustice.

Mr Sheikh’s lawyer, Mehmood Sheikh, said that the jailed men should not have spent one day behind bars. The best part of their lives have been wasted in jail without committing any offence at all. They should be released immediately,he said.

Mr Sheikh was accused of kidnapping Mr Pearl after luring him to Karachi in 2002. As south Asia bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, Mr Pearl was investigating Islamist terrorism and the alleged connections between al-Qaeda and Pakistan’s intelligence services that emerged after 9/11. He was seen getting into a car outside the city’s Metropole hotel and shaking hands with the young, bearded driver, thought to be Mr Sheikh. Pictures soon appeared of the American in chains with a gun to his head. He was beheaded days later. His body was found, in pieces, in a shallow grave north of Karachi.

Mr Sheikh was arrested and sentenced to death months later, but his role has long been disputed. Further investigations claimed that the al-Qaeda commander Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks, had beheaded the journalist.

There was an international outcry last year when Mr Sheikh’s sentence was commuted to time already served for kidnapping. The US had said it would seek his extradition for trial and the acquittal poses a test for President Biden. The Pearls’ lawyer, Faisal Siddiqi, said the only legal avenue was to seek a review of the decision, but that will be conducted by the same judges who issued yesterday’s 2-1 verdict.

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