Pak court commutes death sentence of Daniel Pearl killer; Briton Omar Saeed Sheikh to walk free

Daniel Pearl, 38, who was the South Asia bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, was kidnapped and beheaded in 2002

On Thursday, April 2, a Pakistani High Court converted the death sentence of the convicted killer of American journalist Daniel Pearl to seven years imprisonment, preparing the way for his imminent release.

Daniel Pearl, 38, who was the South Asia bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, was kidnapped and beheaded in 2002. Three Pakistani nationals and a Briton -- Omar Saeed Sheikh -- were convicted of the gory murder.

Murder of Daniel Pearl

Daniel Pearl
Wikimedia commons

Pearl was kidnapped in Pakistan's port city of Karachi on January 23, 2002. Few weeks later, his decapitation video was sent to the US consulate in the city.

Richard C. Reid
Richard C. Reid aka the 'Shoe Bomber' Wikimedia commons

At the time of his murder, Pearl was investigating the links between Pakistani militants and Richard C. Reid, also known as the 'Shoe Bomber', a British bomber who attempted to detonate a shoe bomb on board an American airliner flying from Paris to Miami.

Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who was born in Britain and studied at the London School of Economics, was arrested and was awarded the death sentence by an anti-terror court the same year. He was convicted of masterminding the kidnapping and killing of Daniel Pearl.

His three accomplices -- Fahad Naseem, Sheikh Adil, and Salman Saqib -- were collectively fined $32,000. At that time, the amount was set to go to Pearl's widow, Mariane, and his son, who was born after his father's murder.

Seven other accused, were never arrested.

Judgement overturned

The court said on Thursday there was insufficient evidence to implicate the accused in the murder of Pearl. "The court has commuted Omar's death sentence to a seven-year sentence", Khawaja Naveed, the defence lawyer told Reuters. "The murder charges were not proven, so he was given seven years for the kidnapping".

"Omar has already served 18 years, so his release orders will be issued sometime today. He will be out in a few days", he added. The court has acquitted the three co-accused were acquitted, Guardian reported

What next?

A prosecutor in Pakistan's Sindh province, of which Karachi is the capital, said he would consider appealing against the court's decision. "We will go through the court order once it is issued, we will probably file an appeal", said Faiz Shah, the provincial prosecutor general.

Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh's terror links

Before his conviction in the case of Daniel Pearl, Omar was arrested in the 1990s in India, for his involvement in the kidnapping of western tourists in 1994.

In 1999, an Indian airliner en route to Kathmandu, Nepal, was hijacked and taken to Kandahar, Afghanistan. Omar Saeed and two other militants were released by India, in exchange for the passengers.