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US Deplores Pakistani Court's Acquittal of Prime Suspect in US Journalist’s Murder

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FILE- Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the alleged mastermind behind Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl's kidnap-slaying, appears at the court in Karachi, Pakistan, March 29, 2002.

The Biden administration is outraged by Thursday’s decision by Pakistan’s highest court to acquit the British national convicted in 2002 of plotting the kidnapping and beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl.

Hours after the ruling, White House press secretary Jen Psaki also underscored the administration's commitment to secure justice for Pearl’s family.

“This decision to exonerate and release [Ahmed Omar Saeed] Sheikh and the other suspects is an affront to terrorism victims everywhere, including in Pakistan," she said, calling on the Pakistani government "to expeditiously review its legal options, including allowing the United States to prosecute Sheikh for the brutal murder of an American citizen and journalist."

The court cleared Sheikh and his three Pakistani accomplices in the case of all the charges, ordering that Sheikh and others be immediately freed from jail, if not wanted in any other case.

A police vehicle moves through the entrance of the Central Prison in Karachi, Pakistan, Jan. 28, 2021.
A police vehicle moves through the entrance of the Central Prison in Karachi, Pakistan, Jan. 28, 2021.

The four men have spent 18 years in prison in Pakistan for the gruesome murder of the Wall Street Journal reporter.

“The judgment says that they should not have been in prison even for one day,” the men’s attorney, Mehmood Sheikh, no relation with Omar Sheikh, told reporters outside the Supreme Court.

An anti-terrorism tribunal in the Pakistani province of Sindh, where the crime occurred 18 years ago, had sentenced Sheikh to death for masterminding Pearl’s killing. His three accomplices were given life sentences.

FILE - Pakistani police escort Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who was convicted in the 2002 killing of American journalist Daniel Pearl, as he exits a court in Karachi, Pakistan, March 29, 2002.
FILE - Pakistani police escort Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who was convicted in the 2002 killing of American journalist Daniel Pearl, as he exits a court in Karachi, Pakistan, March 29, 2002.

In April 2020, however, an appeals court in Sindh overturned the verdict, reducing Sheikh’s sentence to seven years in prison for kidnapping only and allowing him to be freed for time served. The ruling ordered that Sheikh’s accomplices be freed.

Pakistani authorities have since prevented the four men from walking free.

The April judgement prompted the parents of the slain U.S. journalist and the provincial government to swiftly file appeals in the Supreme Court to seek restoration of the 2002 convictions, leading to Thursday’s outcome.

"The judgment of the Supreme Court is that these four people who were accused of kidnapping Daniel Pearl and allegedly murdering him, that judgment which was given by the trial court in 2002 has been set aside finally and put to rest,” attorney Sheikh said.

FILE - Undated file photo of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. (Photo by Wall Street Journal/AFP)
FILE - Undated file photo of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. (Photo by Wall Street Journal/AFP)

The Pearl family’s lawyer, Faisal Siddiqi, noted the three-judge Supreme Court panel ruled 2-to-1 in favor of upholding Sheikh’s acquittal.

“Thursday’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 Siddiqi.

"We urge the U.S. government to take all necessary actions under the law to correct this injustice,” they added.

The Committee to Protect Journalists also criticized the court ruling.

“We are deeply disappointed that Pakistan’s Supreme Court has acquitted and ordered the release of Ahmad Saeed Omar Sheikh, despite overwhelming evidence of Sheikh’s involvement in the kidnapping of Daniel Pearl, which led directly to his murder,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Daniel Pearl deserves justice and Sheikh deserves to pay for his crime. Journalists everywhere are less safe today due to this decision.”

Pearl was visiting Pakistan to report on Islamist militant networks in the country following the September 11, 2001 terror strikes on U.S. cities before being kidnapped in Karachi, the capital of Sindh, and beheaded days later.

Washington said last month that it “stands ready to take custody of Omar Sheikh to stand trial insisting the U.S. “cannot allow him to evade justice for his role in Daniel Pearl’s abduction and murder." But legal experts in Pakistan maintain that the country’s laws do not allow another country to undertake such an intervention.

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