Pakistan Orders Man Acquitted in Pearl Murder off Death Row

ISLAMABAD (AP) -
Dr. Judea Pearl, father of American journalist Daniel Pearl, who was killed by terrorists in 2002, speaks at an event honoring his son. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the Pakistani-British man acquitted of the 2002 gruesome beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl off death row and moved to a so-called government “safe house.”

Ahmad Saeed Omar Sheikh, who has been on death row for 18 years, will be under guard and will not be allowed to leave the safe house, but he will be able to have his wife and children visit him.

“It is not complete freedom. It is a step toward freedom,” said Sheikh’s father, Ahmad Saeed Sheikh, who attended the hearing.

The Pakistan government has been scrambling to keep Sheikh in jail since a Supreme Court order last Thursday upheld his acquittal in the Wall Street Journal reporter’s death, triggering outrage by Pearl’s family and the U.S. administration.

In a final effort to overturn the acquittal, Pakistan’s government as well as the Pearl family filed an appeal to the Supreme Court, asking it to review the decision to exonerate Sheikh of Pearl’s murder. The family’s lawyer, Faisal Siddiqi, however, said such a review had a slim chance of success because the same Supreme Court judges who ordered Sheikh’s acquittal sit on the review panel.

The U.S. government has said that it would seek Sheikh’s extradition if his acquittal is upheld. Sheikh has been indicted in the United States on Pearl’s murder as well as in a 1994 kidnapping of an American citizen in Indian-ruled sector of the divided region of Kashmir. The American was eventually freed.

Sheikh was arrested by India after the 1994 kidnappings, but was among four terror suspects freed by India on Dec. 31, 1999, in exchange for the hostages on an Indian Airlines aircraft that was hijacked and taken from Nepal to then Taliban-controlled Afghan city of Kandahar.

In the government-run safe house, Sheikh will be under a 24-hour guard — often by military personnel — and will not be allowed to leave the house. Locations of such safe houses are usually kept secret; Pakistan’s security establishment has several such facilities across the country.

Pearl disappeared on Jan. 23, 2002, in the port city of Karachi where he was investigating links between Pakistani militant groups and Richard C. Reid, dubbed the “shoe bomber” after his attempt to blow up a flight from Paris to Miami with explosives hidden in his shoes. Sheikh was convicted of helping lure Pearl to a meeting in the port city of Karachi, during which he was kidnapped.

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.

Sheikh had long denied any involvement in Pearl’s death, but Pakistan’s Supreme Court last month heard that he acknowledged writing a letter in 2019 admitting a minor role — raising hopes for some that he might remain behind bars.

In a series of tweets over the weekend, Pearl’s family urged followers to “call your lawmakers in Pakistan, in the U.S., the world to support Danny’s parents,” to keep Sheikh behind bars.