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Court: Free accused in reporter's death

by KATHY GANNON THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | January 29, 2021 at 3:45 a.m.
Faisal Siddiqi, left, a lawyer for the family of Daniel Pearl, an American reporter who was kidnapped and killed in Pakistan, arrives with his assistant at the Supreme Court for an appeal hearing in the Daniel Pearl case, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021. The court on Thursday has ordered the release of Pakistani man Ahmad Saeed Omar Sheikh convicted and later acquitted in the gruesome beheading of American journalist Pearl in 2002. The court also dismissed an appeal of Sheikh's acquittal by Pearl's family. (AP Photo/Waseem Khan)

ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan's Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the release of a Pakistani-British man convicted and later acquitted in the beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002.

The court also dismissed an appeal of Ahmad Saeed Omar Sheikh's acquittal filed by Pearl's family and the Pakistani government.

A minister in the Sindh province where Sheikh is being held said the government had exhausted all options to keep him locked up -- an indication that Sheikh could be free within days. The "Supreme Court is the court of last resort," said Murtaza Wahab, Sindh's law minister.

"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.

Pearl's killing shocked many in 2002, years before the Islamic State began releasing videos of its militants beheading journalists. An autopsy report told of the gruesome details of the Wall Street Journal reporter's killing and dismemberment.

[Video not showing up above? Click here to watch » https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OWOReZk9E9g]

Sheikh was convicted of helping lure Pearl to a meeting in the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi, where he was kidnapped. Pearl had been investigating the link between Pakistani militants and Richard Reid, dubbed the "shoe bomber" after his attempt to blow up a flight from Paris to Miami with explosives hidden in his shoes.

Pearl's body was discovered in a shallow grave soon after a video of his beheading was delivered to the U.S. Consulate in Karachi.

The Pentagon in 2007 released a transcript in which Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks on the United States, said he had killed Pearl.

"I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew Daniel Pearl," the transcript quoted Mohammed as saying. Mohammad first disclosed his role while he was in CIA custody and subjected to waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other forms of torture. He remains in the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay and has never been charged with the journalist's death.

Sheikh had long denied any involvement in Pearl's death, but the Supreme Court on Wednesday heard that he acknowledged writing a letter in 2019 admitting a minor role -- raising hopes for some that he might remain behind bars.

[Gallery not loading above? Click here for more photos » arkansasonline.com/129sheikh/]

Sheikh has been on death row since his conviction -- even after his subsequent acquittal -- and is currently being held in a Karachi jail. A three-judge Supreme Court ruled 2 to 1 to uphold Sheikh's acquittal and ordered him released, according to the Pearl family lawyer.

A lawyer for Sheikh said the court also ordered the release of three other Pakistanis who had been sentenced to life in prison for their part in Pearl's kidnapping and death.

Washington previously said it would seek Sheikh's extradition to the United States to be tried there if the acquittal was upheld.

"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," the family's statement said.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the U.S. was "outraged by the Pakistani Supreme Court decision to affirm the acquittals of those responsible" for Pearl's slaying and underscored the administration's commitment to secure justice for his family.

​​​​​Information for this article was contributed by Adil Jawad, Ben Fox, Eric Tucker and Ken Guggenheim of The Associated Press.

An appeal hearing in the Daniel Pearl murder case was held at the Supreme Court, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021. The court on Thursday has ordered the release of Ahmad Saeed Omar Sheikh who was convicted and later acquitted in the gruesome beheading of American journalist Pearl in 2002. The court also dismissed an appeal of Sheikh's acquittal by Pearl's family. (AP Photo/Waseem Khan)
An appeal hearing in the Daniel Pearl murder case was held at the Supreme Court, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021. The court on Thursday has ordered the release of Ahmad Saeed Omar Sheikh who was convicted and later acquitted in the gruesome beheading of American journalist Pearl in 2002. The court also dismissed an appeal of Sheikh's acquittal by Pearl's family. (AP Photo/Waseem Khan)
FILE - In this April 15, 2007, file photo, Dr. Judea Pearl, father of American journalist Daniel Pearl, who was killed by terrorists in 2002, speaks in Miami Beach, Fla. Pakistan's Supreme Court on Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021, ordered the release of Ahmad Saeed Omar Sheikh who was convicted and later acquitted in the gruesome beheading of American journalist Pearl in 2002. The court also dismissed an appeal of Sheikh's acquittal by Pearl's family. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)
FILE - In this April 15, 2007, file photo, Dr. Judea Pearl, father of American journalist Daniel Pearl, who was killed by terrorists in 2002, speaks in Miami Beach, Fla. Pakistan's Supreme Court on Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021, ordered the release of Ahmad Saeed Omar Sheikh who was convicted and later acquitted in the gruesome beheading of American journalist Pearl in 2002. The court also dismissed an appeal of Sheikh's acquittal by Pearl's family. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)
Ahmed Saeed Sheikh, right, father of British-born Pakistani Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, leaves the Supreme Court with his lawyer Mehmood A. Sheikh, after an appeal hearing in the Daniel Pearl murder case, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021. The court on Thursday ordered the release of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who was convicted and later acquitted in the gruesome beheading of American journalist Pearl in 2002. The court also dismissed an appeal of Sheikh's acquittal by Pearl's family. (AP Photo/Waseem Khan)
Ahmed Saeed Sheikh, right, father of British-born Pakistani Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, leaves the Supreme Court with his lawyer Mehmood A. Sheikh, after an appeal hearing in the Daniel Pearl murder case, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021. The court on Thursday ordered the release of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who was convicted and later acquitted in the gruesome beheading of American journalist Pearl in 2002. The court also dismissed an appeal of Sheikh's acquittal by Pearl's family. (AP Photo/Waseem Khan)
Mehmood A. Sheikh, right, defense lawyer, and Ahmed Saeed Sheikh, father of British-born Pakistani Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, leave the Supreme Court after an appeal hearing in the Daniel Pearl case in Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021. The court on Thursday has ordered the release of Sheikh convicted and later acquitted in the gruesome beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002. The court also dismissed an appeal of Sheikh's acquittal by Pearl's family. (AP Photo/Waseem Khan)
Mehmood A. Sheikh, right, defense lawyer, and Ahmed Saeed Sheikh, father of British-born Pakistani Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, leave the Supreme Court after an appeal hearing in the Daniel Pearl case in Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021. The court on Thursday has ordered the release of Sheikh convicted and later acquitted in the gruesome beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002. The court also dismissed an appeal of Sheikh's acquittal by Pearl's family. (AP Photo/Waseem Khan)
Mehmood A. Sheikh, right, defense lawyer, and Ahmed Saeed Sheikh, father of British-born Pakistani Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, arrive at the Supreme Court for an appeal hearing in the Daniel Pearl case, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021. THe court on Thursday has ordered the release of Sheikh convicted and later acquitted in the gruesome beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002. The court also dismissed an appeal of Sheikh's acquittal by Pearl's family. (AP Photo/Waseem Khan)
Mehmood A. Sheikh, right, defense lawyer, and Ahmed Saeed Sheikh, father of British-born Pakistani Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, arrive at the Supreme Court for an appeal hearing in the Daniel Pearl case, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021. THe court on Thursday has ordered the release of Sheikh convicted and later acquitted in the gruesome beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002. The court also dismissed an appeal of Sheikh's acquittal by Pearl's family. (AP Photo/Waseem Khan)
FILE - In this March 29, 2002 file photo, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the alleged mastermind behind Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl's kidnap-slaying, appears at the court in Karachi, Pakistan. Pakistan's Supreme Court on Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021 has ordered the release of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh convicted and later acquitted in the gruesome beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002. The court also dismissed an appeal of Ahmad Saeed Omar Sheikh's acquittal by Pearl's family. (AP Photo/Zia Mazhar, File)
FILE - In this March 29, 2002 file photo, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the alleged mastermind behind Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl's kidnap-slaying, appears at the court in Karachi, Pakistan. Pakistan's Supreme Court on Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021 has ordered the release of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh convicted and later acquitted in the gruesome beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002. The court also dismissed an appeal of Ahmad Saeed Omar Sheikh's acquittal by Pearl's family. (AP Photo/Zia Mazhar, File)
Mehmood A. Sheikh, defense lawyer of British-born Pakistani Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, talks to the media outside the Supreme Court after an appeal hearing in the Daniel Pearl case, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021. The court on Thursday has ordered the release of Sheikh convicted and later acquitted in the gruesome beheading of American journalist Pearl in 2002. The court also dismissed an appeal of Sheikh's acquittal by Pearl's family. (AP Photo/Waseem Khan)
Mehmood A. Sheikh, defense lawyer of British-born Pakistani Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, talks to the media outside the Supreme Court after an appeal hearing in the Daniel Pearl case, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021. The court on Thursday has ordered the release of Sheikh convicted and later acquitted in the gruesome beheading of American journalist Pearl in 2002. The court also dismissed an appeal of Sheikh's acquittal by Pearl's family. (AP Photo/Waseem Khan)
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