Pakistan’s highest court has ordered that a man previously convicted of kidnapping and killing American journalist Daniel Pearl be moved from jail to a secure but more comfortable lodging and given access to his family.
The decision by the Supreme Court of Pakistan comes as the justices hear an appeal to reinstate the murder conviction against Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, a Britain-born militant of Pakistani origin. A lower court last year acquitted Sheikh and ordered his release.
Sheikh was convicted of killing Pearl in 2002, months after a video of Pearl’s beheading created an uproar around the world. Sheikh spent 18 years on death row as his case went through the court system.
Last April, a court in Sindh province overturned that verdict on appeal, leaving only a conviction of kidnapping in place, and commuted his death sentence to seven years in prison considered as time already served. Three others linked to the case, Fahad Naseem, Salman Saqib, and Sheikh Adil, were acquitted.
The Sindh High Court decision also caused an international outcry, with the then-acting U.S. attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen, announcing he was ready to “take custody of Omar Sheikh” to try him in the United States.
“We cannot allow him to evade justice for his role in Daniel Pearl’s abduction and murder,” a December 2020 statement from Rosen said.
In his first call to his Pakistani counterpart since taking up his post, new U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed concern about the “potential release” of Sheikh and his accomplices.
A readout of the call issued by the U.S. State Department said Blinken discussed “how to ensure accountability for convicted terrorist Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and others responsible for the kidnapping and murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl.”
Pearl, the South Asia bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal, was investigating militants with links to al-Qaida when he was kidnapped in Pakistan’s biggest city Karachi in January 2002.
A month later, the video lasting several minutes showed his beheading.
During testimony in 2007 at the Guantanamo Bay detention center, the mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, claimed he was the one who killed Pearl.
"I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew, Daniel Pearl, in the city of Karachi, Pakistan," said a Pentagon transcript of the hearing as published in a CNN story at the time.
Later, a detailed report issued by a Georgetown University investigative journalism project, called the Pearl Project, also claimed that Pearl had been beheaded by Mohammad.
The 48-year-old Sheikh has a history of involvement with militant groups. He spent time in an Indian prison for the 1994 kidnapping of Western tourists. He was released, along with other militants, in exchange for the passengers of an Indian Airlines plane that was hijacked and landed in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 1999.