Pakistan frees man convicted of murdering US journalist Daniel Pearl

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Pakistan Supreme Court ordered authorities to release Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, a British-Pakistani militant who was the principal accused in the 2002 beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl, Dawn newspaper reported.

The top court dismissed an appeal by the Sindh government against the Sindh High Court (SHC) order for his immediate release. The apex court is also separately hearing appeals against the high court’s earlier acquittal of Sheikh, a decision on which has not been announced as yet.

The short order was issued by a three-judge SC bench headed by Justice Mushir Alam. One member of the bench opposed the decision.

“The court has come out to say that there is no offence that he has committed in this case,” Mahmood Sheikh, who represented Sheikh, told AFP.

The attorney added that the court had ordered that three others, who had been sentenced to life in prison for their part in Pearl’s kidnapping and death, also be freed.

“Today’s decision is a complete travesty of justice and the release of these killers puts in danger journalists everywhere and the people of Pakistan,” the Pearl family said in a statement released by their lawyer.

A letter handwritten by Sheikh in 2019, in which he admits limited involvement in the killing of the Wall Street Journal reporter, was submitted to the Supreme Court nearly two weeks ago. It wasn’t until Wednesday that Sheikh’s lawyers confirmed their client wrote it.

Daniel Pearl, 38, was doing research on religious extremism in Karachi when he was abducted in January 2002. A graphic video showing his decapitation was delivered to the US consulate a month later. Subsequently, Sheikh was arrested in 2002 and sentenced to death by a trial court.

Since Sheikh had been incarcerated since 2002, that sentence was counted as time served by the high court. The SHC had also acquitted three other men namely Fahad Naseem, Sheikh Adil and Salman Saqib, who had been earlier sentenced to life imprisonment by an Anti-Terrorism Court in Karachi.

A son of a cloth merchant, Sheikh was born in England in 1974 where he attended a private school. His family moved to Lahore in 1987 and he enrolled at the renowned Aitchison College from where he was expelled for rowdy behaviour.

According to a report by Dawn, Sheikh’s first real brush with terrorism occurred when he joined the Harkatul Ansar — rechristened Harkatul Mujahideen after the US banned the group in the mid-1990s — and became one of the key infiltrators into Kashmir where he was arrested by government forces in 1997 during a sting operation.

He remained incarcerated until December 1999 when the hijackers of an Indian airliner in Kandahar secured his release along with Jaish-e-Mohammed’s Masood Azhar and a Kashmiri militant Mushtaq Zargar.

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