A Pakistani court on Thursday ordered the immediate release of the four suspects in journalist Daniel Pearl’s beheading murder — defying its own government, which had demanded they stay behind bars.
NY Post Sindh High Court issued a written order for accused mastermind Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and alleged cohorts Fahad Naseem, Sheikh Adil and Salman Saqib to be “released from jail forthwith,” according to Agence France-Presse (AFP).
British-born suspect Sheikh was sentenced to death in 2002 for the kidnapping and beheading of the Wall Street Journal reporter in January that year, a gruesome crime that was filmed and sent to the US consulate. The other three suspects were all sentenced to life in prison.
In April this year, the same provincial court that ordered their release Thursday had overturned the murder convictions and sentences, a move that stunned the US government, Pearl’s family and journalism advocacy groups.
Sheikh’s conviction was downgraded to kidnapping, which carries a maximum of seven years in jail, less than he had already served, the Wall Street Journal said.
Pakistan’s government ordered that they remain behind bars until appeals were heard, singling out Sheikh as a specific danger if released.
Faisal Siddiqi, a lawyer for Pearl’s family, said the Sindh provincial government is appealing the order to release Sheikh. The acquittals are now being appealed separately by both the Pakistani government and Pearl’s family. The Supreme Court will resume its hearing on Jan. 5.
Pearl, a 38-year-old reporter from Encino, California, was abducted Jan. 23, 2002, in Karachi while investigating ties between Pakistani militants and “shoe bomber” Richard Reid.
In Sheikh’s original trial, emails showed he gained Pearl’s confidence by sharing their experiences waiting for the birth of their first child, with Pearl’s wife giving birth to their son, Adam, four months after the murder.
Sheikh, a seasoned jihadist who studied at the London School of Economics, was arrested days after Pearl’s kidnapping and later sentenced to death by hanging. Pearl’s widow had long predicted he would never be killed that way, however.
Some say Pearl was murdered by Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Mohammed was arrested in Pakistan in 2003 and is being held in Guantanamo Bay.