Daniel Pearl Case: Why Pakistan Acquitted Prime Accused Omar Sheikh who was Once Held in IndiaOver 18 years after the brutal beheading of United States journalist Daniel Pearl shook the world, Pakistan’s Supreme Court has acquitted the man accused of kidnapping and killing the Wall Street Journal reporter of all charges.
On Thursday, a panel of three judges ordered the acquittal of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the prime suspect in the 2002 killing.
Who was Daniel Pearl?
Pearl, 38, was investigating Islamist militants in Karachi after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States when he was kidnapped. Pearl was based in Mumbai at the time as the South Asia Bureau Chief of the Journal. He was kidnapped in Karachi on January 23 and killed by his captors on February 1. His dismembered body was found buried in a shallow grave 30 km from Karachi and found in May, nearly three months from when he was killed. A month after Pearl’s death, a graphic video of his beheading was sent to the US Consulate in Karachi in which Pearl was seen speaking against American foreign policy. Critics, as well as family members of Pearl, have maintained that Pearl made the statements under duress.
Pearl was survived by his wife Mariane Pearl and son Adam Pearl who was born four months after Pearl’s death. The killing caused outrage in America and around the world.
Who is Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh?
In 2002, following pressure from the US, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh who was a British citizen was convicted by the General Pervez Musharraf government in Pakistan along with three other aides. Sheikh was on death row since the conviction for masterminding the crime. Sheikh is one of the three militants that India had set free in 2000 in exchange for the release of nearly 150 passengers and crew members on the Indian Airlines’ IC-814 flight that was hijacked in Kandahar by Taliban militia. He is rumored to have worked for the British intelligentsia in the Balkans before joining a terror outfit in Pakistan. Before his alleged tryst with MI6, which Musharraf wrote about in his memoir, Sheikh who is 47-years-old now, dropped out of University to carry out relief work in the Bornia war. He was sent to India to kidnap western tourists and spent 1994 to 1999 in prison before being released in 200 along with Maulana Masood Azhar and Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar. Sheikh has long denied his role in the killing of Pearl.
Why is the case garnering attention now?
In 2011, an investigative study conducted by Georgetown University and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists found that though Sheikh and his aides had kidnapped Pearl, they could not be held culpable to the murder. Many have since claimed that the real mastermind behind the killing of Pearl was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The latter, according to a report in the Indian Express, was also a part of the September 11 terror attack in the US.
Last year, the Sindh High Court commuted the death penalty off the British-born Sheikh to a life sentence and acquitted his three co-accused of murder while only convicting them for kidnapping, citing lack of evidence. The government and Pearl’s parents challenged that decision and pleaded to the Supreme Court to reinstate the death penalty. On Thursday, the apex court struck down both the pleas in a split decision.
How has Joe Biden government reacted to the acquittal?
White House has reacted harshly to the apex court’s verdict. Joe Biden’s administration is “outraged by the Pakistani Supreme Court’s decision,” his chief spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters, underscoring the uneasy alliance between Washington and Islamabad, which has fractured many times over Islamist militancy. She also called the ruling “an affront to terrorism victims everywhere” and demanded the Pakistani government “review its legal options.” The news has left the family of Pearl shocked as well. The Pearl family was in “complete shock”, the family’s lawyer, Faisal Siddiqi, told Reuters, adding that the court’s decision was a travesty of justice. Wall Street Journal has reacted to the development as being “infuriating and unjust”. Reporters Without Borders also slammed the ruling, saying that it “will remain as a symbol of the absolute impunity surrounding crimes of violence against journalists in this country.”
Pearl’s family had raised the matter with the US government and hopes that the US extradites Sheikh from Pakistan so that he can be tried for his crimes in the US.
(With inputs from Agencies)