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U.S. Outraged By Pakistan Decision To Release Men Accused In Pearl Murder

In this file photo taken on March 29, 2002, Pakistani police surround a handcuffed Ahmed Omar Sheikh as he exits a court in Karachi.
In this file photo taken on March 29, 2002, Pakistani police surround a handcuffed Ahmed Omar Sheikh as he exits a court in Karachi.

The United States has expressed outrage that Pakistan's Supreme Court ordered the release of a British-born man convicted of the 2002 murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

A three-judge bench acquitted Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh by a majority of two to one and ordered him to be freed.

Sheikh, a former student at the London School of Economics, was arrested in 2002 and sentenced to death by an anti-terrorism court, while three other defendants were handed life sentences for their part in Pearl's kidnapping and death.

The main suspect's attorney, Mehmood Sheikh, and a provincial attorney general, said the Supreme Court ordered the three other convicts be freed as well.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken described the court's decision as "an affront to terrorism victims everywhere, including in Pakistan," and said the United States was prepared to prosecute Sheikh domestically.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Washington was "committed to securing justice for Daniel Pearl's family."

Psaki called on the Pakistani government to quickly review legal options including letting the United States prosecute those acquitted.

In a statement released by their lawyer, the Pearl family called the court's decision "a complete travesty of justice."

"The release of these killers puts in danger journalists everywhere and the people of Pakistan," the statement reads.

In April last year, a lower court acquitted the 47-year-old Sheikh of murder and reduced his conviction to a lesser charge of kidnap -- overturning his death sentence and ordering his release after almost two decades in prison in what Washington said was an "affront to victims of terrorism."

Pearl, 38, was the South Asia bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal when he was abducted in Karachi in January 2002 while researching a story about Islamist militants.

A video showing Pearl's decapitation was delivered to the U.S. Consulate in Karachi nearly a month later.

A letter handwritten by Sheikh in 2019, in which he admitted a "minor" role in the killing of the reporter, was submitted to Pakistan's Supreme Court earlier this month.

It wasn't until January 27 that Sheikh's lawyers confirmed their client wrote the letter, which doesn't exactly say what his alleged role in Pearl's slaying was.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, AP, and Dawn
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