Brit terrorist convicted in grisly beheading of journalist freed from prison

A British terrorist who was convicted of beheading a journalist is to be freed from prison in Pakistan.

British national Omar Saeed Sheikh, of Wanstead, in east London, was sentenced to death in 2002 for the murder and abduction of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

He has been in jail for 18 years awaiting the outcome of an appeal.

His death sentence was overturned in April 2020 and his conviction was reduced to a lesser charge of kidnapping, carrying a seven-year sentence.

Sheikh had previously denied any involvement in the killing but admitted on Wednesday he had in fact had a "minor role" in the journalist's death.

The court also dismissed an appeal against the acquittal of militant Ahmad Saeed Omar Sheikh by the Wall Street Journal reporter's family.

Sheikh, 47, had been detained while the appeal by Mr Pearl's parents, Judea and Ruth, was heard.

But that appeal was dismissed on Wednesday, January 28, and Sheikh's immediate release ordered.

The country's three-judge Supreme Court ruled two to one in favour of upholding Mr Sheikh's acquittal and ordered his release, Pearl family lawyer Faisal Siddiqi said.

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"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 Pearl family said in a statement released by their lawyer.

"We urge the US government to take all necessary actions under the law to correct this injustice. We also hope that the Pakistani authorities will take all necessary steps to rectify this travesty of justice," the Pearl family said.

The acquittal was also the subject of separate appeals by the Pakistan government which said Sheikh's release would endanger the public.

Defence attorney Mehmood A. Sheikh, no relation, said 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."

Mr Pearl had been looking into the link between Pakistani militants and Richard C Reid – the "shoe bomber", who tried to blow up a flight between Paris and Miami with explosives in his shoes – when he went missing.

His body was found in a shallow grave shortly afterwards and a video of his beheading was sent to the US consulate in Karachi.

The US government has previously said it would demand that Mr Sheikh be extradited to the US to be tried there.

In December, the US said it was ready to take custody of Sheikh, asserting that Washington will not allow him to evade justice.

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