By KATHY GANNON
ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan’s Supreme Courtroom ordered on Thursday the discharge of a Pakistani-British man convicted and later acquitted within the beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002.
The courtroom additionally dismissed an attraction of Ahmad Saeed Omar Sheikh’s acquittal filed by Pearl’s household and the Pakistani authorities.
A minister within the Sindh province the place Sheikh is being held mentioned the federal government had exhausted all choices to maintain him locked up — a sign Sheikh may very well be free inside days. The “Supreme Courtroom is the courtroom of final resort,” Murtaza Wahab, Sindh’s regulation minister, informed The Related Press.
“The Pearl household is in full shock by the bulk determination of the Supreme Courtroom of Pakistan to acquit and launch Ahmed Omer Sheikh and the opposite accused individuals who kidnapped and killed Daniel Pearl,” the Pearl household mentioned in an announcement launched by their lawyer, Faisal Siddiqi.
The brutality of Pearl’s killing shocked many in 2002, years earlier than the Islamic State group started releasing movies of their militants beheading journalists. An post-mortem report informed the grotesque particulars of the Wall Avenue Journal reporter’s killing and dismemberment.
Sheikh was convicted of serving to lure Pearl to a gathering within the port metropolis of Karachi, throughout which he was kidnapped. Pearl had been investigating the hyperlink between Pakistani militants and Richard C. Reid, dubbed the “shoe bomber” after his try and blow up a flight from Paris to Miami with explosives hidden in his sneakers.
Pearl’s physique was found in a shallow grave quickly after a video of his beheading was delivered to the U.S. Consulate in Karachi.
The Pentagon in 2007 launched a transcript during which Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 assaults on the US, mentioned he had killed Pearl.
“I decapitated with my blessed proper hand the pinnacle of the American Jew Daniel Pearl,” the transcript quoted Mohammed as saying. Mohammad first disclosed his position whereas he was held in CIA custody and subjected to waterboarding, sleep deprivation and different types of torture. He stays within the U.S. jail in Guantanamo Bay and has by no means been charged with the journalist’s loss of life.
Sheikh had lengthy denied any involvement in Pearl’s loss of life, however the Supreme Courtroom on Wednesday heard that he acknowledged writing a letter in 2019 admitting a minor position — elevating hopes for some that he may stay behind bars.
Sheikh has been on loss of life row since his conviction — even after his subsequent acquittal — and is presently being held in a Karachi jail. A 3-judge Supreme Courtroom dominated 2 to 1 to uphold Sheikh’s acquittal and ordered him launched, in response to the Pearl household lawyer.
A lawyer for Sheikh mentioned the courtroom additionally ordered the discharge of three different Pakistanis who had been sentenced to life in jail for his or her half in Pearl’s kidnapping and loss of life. The three — Fahad Naseem, Sheikh Adil and Salman Saqib — all performed lesser roles, akin to offering a laptop computer or web entry to ship footage of Pearl, with a gun to his head, with calls for that each one prisoners on the U.S. jail in Guantanamo Bay jail be launched. But on the unique trial all 4 have been charged with the identical crimes.
“These individuals mustn’t have been in jail even for in the future,” Mehmood A. Sheikh, who will not be associated to his consumer, mentioned.
He warned the Sindh provincial authorities in opposition to delaying their launch, because it has achieved previously together with his consumer, even after being slapped with a contempt cost.
“I count on the Sindh authorities is not going to make a mockery of justice by persevering with … to not launch them for no good purpose by any means,” he mentioned.
Washington beforehand mentioned it could search Sheikh’s extradition to the US to be tried there, if the acquittal was upheld. It’s not clear whether or not Pakistan would help his extradition and even beneath what grounds it may go forward.
In an announcement Thursday, performing Lawyer Normal Monty Wilkinson mentioned the Justice Division was “deeply involved” by the Pakistani courtroom ruling and that Sheikh should be held accountable.
“Whereas we stay grateful for the Pakistani authorities’s opposition to those acquittals on attraction, in mild of the Supreme Courtroom’s determination, the Division of Justice reiterates that the US stands able to take custody of Sheikh to face trial right here on the pending prices in opposition to him,” Wilkinson mentioned.
Sheik was indicted within the U.S. in 2002 for hostage-taking and conspiracy to commit hostage-taking, ensuing within the homicide of Pearl, in addition to the 1994 kidnapping of one other United States citizen in India, Secretary of State Antony Blinken mentioned in an announcement.
The case appears sure to check the brand new Biden administration’s talent in coping with Pakistan, thought of a key ally in getting peace in neighboring Afghanistan.
The Pearl household urged each the U.S. and Pakistani governments to take motion to “right this injustice.”
“As we speak’s determination is an entire travesty of justice and the discharge of those killers places in peril journalists in every single place and the individuals of Pakistan,” the household’s assertion mentioned.
Later Thursday, White Home press secretary Jen Psaki mentioned the U.S. was “outraged by the Pakistani Supreme Courtroom determination to affirm the acquittals of these accountable” for Pearl’s slaying and underscored the administration’s dedication to safe justice for Pearl’s household.
“This determination to exonerate and launch Sheikh and the opposite suspects is an affront to terrorism victims in every single place, together with in Pakistan,” she mentioned, calling on the “Pakistani authorities to expeditiously evaluate its authorized choices, together with permitting the US to prosecute Sheikh for the brutal homicide of an American citizen and journalist.”
Siddiqi, the Pearl household lawyer, mentioned the one authorized avenue accessible now’s to ask for a evaluate of the courtroom’s determination to uphold Sheikh’s acquittal. Nevertheless, he mentioned the evaluate can be performed by the identical courtroom that made the choice. “In sensible phrases,” which means the case is closed in Pakistan, he mentioned.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Courtroom heard Sheikh admit to a minor position in Pearl’s kidnapping — a dramatic flip of occasions after he had denied any involvement for 18 years. Siddiqi, the Pearl household lawyer, had anticipated it could advance his case. Nonetheless, Siddiqi had beforehand mentioned profitable was an uphill battle.
Sheikh and the three different males ordered launched Thursday have been all acquitted in April by the Sindh Excessive Courtroom on the grounds that the preliminary prosecution’s proof was inadequate. Throughout the attraction of that acquittal, Siddiqi tried to persuade the Supreme Courtroom of Sheikh’s guilt on at the very least one of many three prices he confronted, particularly the kidnapping cost, which additionally carries the loss of life penalty in Pakistan.
The courtroom is anticipated to launch an in depth rationalization for Thursday’s determination within the coming days.
Related Press writers Adil Jawad in Karachi, Pakistan, and Ben Fox, Eric Tucker and Ken Guggenheim in Washington contributed to this report.