Accessibility links

Breaking News

Pakistan: Sheikh Receives Death Sentence In Slaying Of Pearl

By Andrew Bushell

A Pakistani judge today handed down a death sentence for British-born Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh for his role in the murder of "The Wall Street Journal" reporter Daniel Pearl. His three co-conspirators were all given life sentences for their roles in the slaying.

Hyderabad, Pakistan; 15 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- A judge in the Pakistani city of Hyderabad sentenced to death Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the prime suspect accused in the killing of "The Wall Street Journal" reporter Daniel Pearl.

Three others accused in the case, Salman Saqib, Fahad Naseem, and Shaikh Adil, were given life sentences.

Chief prosecutor Raja Qureshi, speaking today outside the Hyderabad prison after the sentencing, detailed the court's decision. "The court has awarded [the] death sentence to the principal accused, Mr. Omar Saeed Sheikh. Life imprisonment has been awarded to the remaining three accused persons, on the charges of conspiracy, on the charges of kidnapping for ransom, on the charges of murder, and on the charges of destruction of evidence," Qureshi said.

The sentencing -- the culmination of a three-month-long trial -- caused consternation among both the defense counsels and local residents of Hyderabad, with police cordons holding off crowds numbering in the hundreds.

Qureshi added that he would continue to pursue the death penalty for Sheikh's three co-conspirators, saying he was waiting for the government to advise on filing a review petition.

Pearl's former employer said the verdict was a step in the right direction. Steven Goldstein, vice president of Dow Jones, which publishes "The Wall Street Journal," said in a statement: "We continue to mourn Danny Pearl. And we continue to hope that everyone responsible for his kidnapping and murder will be brought to justice. Today's verdict is one step in that direction."

Outside the heavily guarded Hyderabad facility where the court announced the verdict, Sheikh's defense lawyers told reporters they would appeal the sentence. They have seven days to file an appeal in a higher court.

Speaking just minutes after his client was sentenced, Raja Bashir, Sheikh's defense attorney, accused the United States of being "anti-Muslim." He also said, "There was no case at all from the root of it."

Bashir said the evidence against Sheikh was flimsy, and that he was confident it would be reversed on appeal to the Sindh high court. At the same time, he accused the court in Hyderabad of yielding to pressure from Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, calling the court "Musharraf's puppet."

However, chief prosecutor Qureshi -- the attorney general of Karachi, where Pearl was kidnapped prior to his murder -- said he was confident the prosecution had successfully proved all of the charges against Sheikh and his co-conspirators.

While announcing the judgment, Judge Ashraf Ali Shah collectively fined the four accused 2 million rupees (about $33,000). The money, he said, will be given to Pearl's widow, Mariane.

Pakistan had made extraordinary security arrangements for the ruling, as authorities feared a violent reaction from Muslim extremists.

Police Brigadier Mohammed Moazzad cited security concerns around the prison. He said streets had been blocked off for a five-block radius and 500 national guardsmen were called in to secure the prison and its 2,000 inmates.

Pearl, the Bombay bureau chief for "The Wall Street Journal," was kidnapped on 23 January while investigating a story on the suspected "shoe bomber," Richard Reid.

In an e-mail sent to Pakistani and Western news outlets, Pearl's kidnappers identified themselves as members of a previously unknown group, the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty. They demanded better treatment for Taliban and Al-Qaeda prisoners at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

In February, the U.S. consulate in Karachi received a videotape confirming Pearl's death.

Sheikh and his co-defendants denied involvement in the kidnapping and accused the prosecution of fabricating charges against them to appease the Americans. Sheikh had earlier admitted to playing a role in the kidnapping but later recanted.

The trial began on 22 April in Karachi but was moved to Hyderabad, about 100 kilometers north, after prosecutors said they had received death threats.

Prosecutors alleged that Sheikh, a former student at the London School of Economics, lured Pearl to a Karachi restaurant on 23 January and then drove him to an unknown location for a meeting with an Islamic extremist leader. He was never seen again.

Later, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation traced the e-mail sent to news outlets about Pearl's kidnapping to one of the co-defendants, Fahad Naseem. Naseem told police he had sent the e-mail on Sheikh's advice.

Pearl's abduction was the first of five attacks against foreigners in Pakistan since November, when U.S. forces defeated the Taliban in Afghanistan. A grenade attack on a church in Islamabad on 17 March killed five people, including a U.S. diplomat and her daughter.

A car bomb in Karachi on 8 May killed 14 people, including 11 French Navy engineers.

On 14 June, a car bomb at the U.S. consulate in Karachi killed 12 Pakistanis, including one guard and one policeman.

On 13 July, a dozen people, including seven Germans, were injured in an apparent grenade attack on a tour bus north of Islamabad.