Pakistan’s Supreme Court docket 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 court docket additionally dismissed an enchantment 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 Court docket is the court docket of final resort,” Murtaza Wahab, Sindh’s regulation minister, advised The Related Press.
“The Pearl household is in full shock by the bulk choice of the Supreme Court docket 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 a press release 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 advised 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 to blow up a flight from Paris to Miami with explosives hidden in his footwear.
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 USA, mentioned he had killed Pearl.
“I decapitated with my blessed proper hand the top of the American Jew Daniel Pearl,” the transcript quoted Mohammad 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 at Guantanamo Bay and has by no means been charged with the journalist’s demise.
Sheikh had lengthy denied any involvement in Pearl’s demise, however the Supreme Court docket 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 demise row since his conviction — even after his subsequent acquittal — and is presently being held in a Karachi jail. A 3-judge Supreme Court docket dominated 2 to 1 to uphold Sheikh’s acquittal and ordered him launched, in accordance with the Pearl household lawyer.
A lawyer for Sheikh mentioned the court docket 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 demise. The three — Fahad Naseem, Sheikh Adil, and Salman Saqib — all performed lesser roles, resembling offering a laptop computer or web entry to ship photos 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 shouldn’t have been in jail even for sooner or later,” Mehmood A. Sheikh, who shouldn’t be associated to his shopper, mentioned.
He warned the Sindh provincial authorities towards delaying their launch, because it has performed prior to now along with his shopper, even after being slapped with a contempt cost.
“I count on the Sindh authorities won’t make a mockery of justice by persevering with … to not launch them for no good cause in anyway,” he mentioned.
Washington beforehand mentioned it could search Sheikh’s extradition to the USA 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 a press release Thursday, appearing Lawyer Basic Monty Wilkinson mentioned the Justice Division was “deeply involved” by the Pakistani court docket ruling and that Sheikh have to be held accountable.
“Whereas we stay grateful for the Pakistani authorities’s opposition to those acquittals on enchantment, in gentle of the Supreme Court docket’s choice, the Division of Justice reiterates that the USA stands able to take custody of Sheikh to face trial right here on the pending expenses towards 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 a press release.
The case appears sure to check the brand new Biden administration’s talent in coping with Pakistan, thought-about a key ally in getting peace in neighboring Afghanistan.
The Pearl household urged each the U.S. and Pakistani governments to take motion to “appropriate this injustice.”
“Immediately’s choice is an entire travesty of justice and the discharge of those killers places at risk journalists in all places 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 Court docket choice 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 choice to exonerate and launch Sheikh and the opposite suspects is an affront to terrorism victims in all places, together with in Pakistan,” she mentioned, calling on the Pakistani authorities “to expeditiously evaluate its authorized choices, together with permitting the USA 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 court docket’s choice to uphold Sheikh’s acquittal. Nonetheless, he mentioned the evaluate could be carried out by the identical court docket that made the choice. “In sensible phrases,” meaning the case is closed in Pakistan, he mentioned.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court docket 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 Court docket on the grounds that the preliminary prosecution’s proof was inadequate. Through the enchantment of that acquittal, Siddiqi tried to persuade the Supreme Court docket of Sheikh’s guilt on a minimum of one of many three expenses he confronted, particularly the kidnapping cost, which additionally carries the demise penalty in Pakistan.
The court docket is predicted to launch an in depth clarification for Thursday’s choice within the coming days.
Reporting by Kathy Gannon for the Related Press in Islamabad, Pakistan. Related Press writers Adil Jawad in Karachi, Pakistan, and Ben Fox, Eric Tucker and Ken Guggenheim in Washington additionally contributed to this report.