Counsel seeks release of Briton acquitted in Daniel Pearl’s murder

ISLAMABAD: The counsel for a Pakistan-born British national convicted and later acquitted in the gruesome 2002 killing of Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reporter Daniel Pearl said Wednesday that he will petition the Supreme Court (SC) to free his client.

Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the key suspect in Pearl’s slaying, remains in custody in a jail in Karachi, despite the acquittal. Pearl’s family and the Sindh government have appealed the acquittal to the apex court, which resumed its hearing this week.

A decision is expected before the end of the month.

Sheikh’s lawyer, Mehmood A Sheikh, has been trying to get his client, who has been on death row for 18 years, freed since the acquittal.

The lawyer told The Associated Press that he was demanding freedom for Sheikh in line with an order issued last month by the Sindh High Court (SHC). The lawyer, who is not related to Sheikh, said he also wants three other co-accused suspects freed. Their lesser charges of aiding and abetting were also overturned.

Last month, the US said that it would not allow Sheikh to escape justice. Acting US Attorney General Jeffery Rosen praised Pakistan for appealing the Sindh court’s order but said that if “those efforts do not succeed, the United States stands ready to take custody of Omar Sheikh to stand trial” in America.

The Pearl family’s lawyer, Faisal Siddiqi, said that he will oppose the petition, adding that he was confident Sheikh would not be freed.

“He will not be released,” said Siddiqi. “Omar Sheikh’s lawyer’s request has twice been denied.”

Pearl, 38, the South Asia bureau chief for WSJ, was abducted on January 23, 2002, in Karachi and beheaded the next month, reportedly by Al-Qaeda. Sheikh had been convicted of helping lure Pearl to a meeting in Karachi in which he was kidnapped.

Prior to his kidnapping, the journalist had been investigating the link between reportedly Pakistan-based militants and Richard Reid, the notorious “Shoe Bomber” who attempted to blow up a flight from Paris to Miami with explosives hidden in his shoes.

In July 2002, following the hearings, an anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Hyderabad had sentenced to death Sheikh and life term to other co-accused. However, all four convicts had moved the SHC in 2002 challenging their convictions.

In his autobiography, In the Line of Fire: A Memoir, former president Pervaiz Musharraf had claimed that Sheikh, a British national and a student at the London School of Economics (reports claim that he did not graduate), was hired by MI6 to engage in “jihadi operations”, adding that “at some point, he probably became a rogue or a double agent”.

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