Four terrorists convicted of kidnapping and beheading journalist Daniel Pearl are released
Pakistan’s Supreme Court has ordered the release of four Islamist militants convicted and later acquitted in the gruesome beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl in 2012.
The court also dismissed an appeal against the militants – including British-born Ahmad Saeed Omar Sheikh who had been on death row – by the Wall Street Journal reporter’s family.
Sheikh, Fahad Naseem, Syed Salman and Muhammad Adil were found guilty of the abduction and murder of the journalist in 2012.
Sheikh, of Wanstead, in east London, UK, was sentenced to death while the three other militants were sentenced to life imprisonment.
But last year, a Pakistani lower court acquitted the 47-year-old of murder and reduced his conviction to a lesser charge of kidnapping, overturning his death sentence and ordering his release after almost two decades in prison. The other three militants also had their convictions overturned.
While Sheikh was cleared of murder and the three other men were cleared, they had been held while Mr Pearl’s parents, Judea, 83 and Ruth appealed against the acquittal.
But today, Pakistan’s Supreme Court dismissed their appeal and ordered the release of the British Islamist militant alongside Naseem, Salman and Adil.
The acquittals were also the subject of separate appeals by the Pakistan government which said Sheikh’s release would endanger the public.
‘The Pearl family is in complete shock by the majority decision of the Supreme Court of Pakistan to acquit and release Ahmed Omer Sheikh and the other accused persons who kidnapped and killed Daniel Pearl,’ the Pearl family said in a statement released by their lawyer, Faisal Siddiqi.
‘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.’
Defense attorney Mehmood A. Sheikh, no relation, confirmed the court ordered three other Pakistanis, who had been sentenced to life in prison for their part in Pearl’s kidnapping and death, also freed.
‘The court has come out to say that there is no offense that he has committed in this case,’ said the attorney. He added that Sheikh ‘should not have spent one day in jail.’
The three-judge Supreme Court ruled two to one in favour of upholding Mr Sheikh’s acquittal and ordered him released, said Mr Siddiqi.
Washington previously said it would demand Sheikh be extradited to the United States to be tried there. There was no immediate reaction from the U.S. Embassy to the court order upholding the appeal.
Pearl was the South Asia bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal when he was abducted in Karachi on January 23 in 2002.
The 38-year-old journalist had been investigating the link between Pakistani militants and Richard C Reid, dubbed the Shoe Bomber after he tried to blow up a flight from Paris to Miami with explosives hidden in his shoes.
Nearly a month later, after a string of ransom demands were made, a graphic video showing his decapitation was delivered to the US consulate in Karachi. His body was discovered in a shallow grave soon after.
The brutality of Pearl’s killing shocked many in 2002, years before the Islamic State group regularly began releasing videos of their beheadings of journalists. An autopsy report told of the gruesome details of Pearl’s killing and dismemberment.
Lawyers for Pearl’s family have argued that Sheikh played a crucial role in organising the abduction and detention of the journalist, before ordering his captors to kill him.
Defence lawyers, however, say he has been used a scapegoat for the murder and was sentenced on insufficient evidence.
Sheikh and the three other men convicted of involvement in the kidnapping have been held under emergency orders by the Sindh provincial government, which has argued that they are a danger to the public.
There was no word on when they will be released following Thursday’s decision.
Pearl’s family called the top court’s ruling ‘a travesty of justice’ and pleaded for US intervention in the case.
‘The release of these killers puts in danger journalists everywhere and the people of Pakistan. We urge the US government to take all necessary actions under the law to correct this injustice,’ the family said in a statement.
In a statement last month, the then-US acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said that America ‘stands ready to take custody of Omar Sheikh to stand trial here’ after labelling the acquittal ‘an affront to terrorism victims everywhere’.
After Sheikh’s acquittal in July last year, Pearls’ father, Judea Pearl, told CBS News: ‘It is a travesty of justice.
‘One theory is that somebody tried to take advantage of the corona situation assuming that no one will pay attention to this decision.
‘And, evidently, we did pay attention.’
The Sindh High Court in April also acquitted three others accused in the case: Fahad Naseem, Sheikh Adil and Salman Saqib, who had been sentenced to life in prison.
Saeed Sheikh, a former student at the London School of Economics, was found to be the ringleader and sentenced to death in 2002.
In court testimony and emails released during the 2002 trial, Saeed Sheikh said he developed a personal relationship with Pearl before he was kidnapped, with both sharing their concerns about their wives, who were pregnant at the time.
Marianne Pearl gave birth to their son Adam in May 2002.
The Pearl Project, an investigative journalism team at Georgetown University, carried out a three-year investigation into Pearl’s kidnapping and death.
They found the reporter was beheaded by Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, who was arrested in Pakistan in 2003 and later described as the architect of the 9/11 attacks on the United States.
Mohammad is a prisoner at the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Saeed Sheikh had been arrested in 1994 by Indian authorities, accused of kidnapping three Britons and an American, who were all freed unharmed, in Indian-ruled Kashmir.
In 1999, India freed Saeed Sheikh and two other militants in exchange for the release of 155 passengers and crew aboard an Indian Airlines plane hijacked to Kandahar, Afghanistan.
However, in January of 2011, a report published by the Pearl Project suggested the wrong people had been convicted.
It had been led by Asra Nomani, a friend and former Wall Street Journal colleague of Pearl’s.
Nomani had been helped in the investigation by a Georgetown University professor.
The investigation made claims Pearl had been killed by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and not Sheikh.
Though there are questions as to the extent of Sheikh’s direct involvement in Pearl’s killing, he is said to have run a kidnapping gang targeting Westerners and handing them off to Mohammed, according to Security Journalist Duncan Gardham.
Sheikh had also been an operative for a militant group backed by the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency and Pearl had been writing stories about the ISI’s links to militants.
A film called A Mighty Heart was made in 2007 about Pearl’s kidnapping. It starred Angelina Jolie as Pearl’s French wife, Mariane.
An American psychologist who talked to Mohammed said he had confessed to beheading Pearl, according to AFP.
Mohammed is due to be tried in connection to 9/11 with four others at a military court in Guantanamo in January 2021.
They are charged with war crimes like terrorism and the murder of nearly 3,000 people.
They will be the first to go on trial, nearly 20 years after the attacks on New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
If found guilty they face the death penalty.
Source: Daily Mail