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Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Explained: Omar Sheikh death sentence commuted, what is Daniel Pearl murder case?

Daniel Pearl, aged 38, was an American journalist who worked as the South Asia bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal. He was abducted in Pakistan’s Karachi in January 2002.

By: Explained Desk | Updated: April 3, 2020 11:03:51 am
Omar Sheikh death sentence commuted, what is Daniel Pearl murder case? British-born Islamic militant Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh is surrounded by armed police as he arrives at a court in Karachi, Pakistan March 29, 2002. (Reuters File Photo: Zahid Hussein)

On Thursday, a Pakistani court set aside the death sentence awarded to Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, a British-born militant convicted for the kidnapping and murder of the American journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002.

The Sindh High Court overturned the murder conviction and instead found Sheikh guilty of the lesser charge of kidnapping, Dawn reported. He was sentenced to 7 years in prison.

However, as Sheikh has already been on death row for the past 18 years, the sentence will be counted as time served, the report said.

The court also acquitted three others who had been serving life sentences in the case. All four are likely to be released soon.

Daniel Pearl’s murder

Daniel Pearl, aged 38, was an American journalist who worked as the South Asia bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal. He was abducted in Pakistan’s Karachi in January 2002, while he was working on a story about Pakistani terror groups linked to Al Qaeda.

Pearl was later beheaded and a graphic video of his decapitation was sent to Karachi’s US consulate about a month later.

After global outcry and pressure from the US, Pakistan’s then President Pervez Musharraf had Sheikh and the three other militants arrested in the same year, after which they were convicted for Pearl’s abduction and murder.

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In 2011, however, a report by students and faculty at Georgetown University and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists cast doubt on the convictions. The report said that while Sheikh and the three others were responsible for abducting Pearl, they were not responsible for his murder.

Pearl’s murder is believed to have been carried out by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a militant who was also involved in the September 11 attacks, and is currently at the US military’s Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

Omar Sheikh death sentence commuted, what is Daniel Pearl murder case? Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl is shown in this photo obtained Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2002. The Wall Street Journal called on the group which claimed to have seized Pearl, missing in Pakistan since Jan. 23, to release him. An e-mail purportedly sent Wednesday by kidnappers holding Pearl threatened to kill him within 24 hours. There was no way to authenticate the e-mail, which was sent to both Western and Pakistani news organizations. (AP Photo)

Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh

Sheikh is among the three terrorists that India had freed in 2000 in exchange for the hostages of the hijacked IC-814.

Sheikh, now 46, grew up in East London, and dropped out of university to join relief efforts during the Bosnian war. Pervez Musharraf in his book ‘In the Line of Fire’ has alleged that Sheikh was sent to the Balkans by the British intelligence agency MI6.

After the Balkans, Sheikh joined a terror outfit in Pakistan, and trained in Pakistan and Afghanistan before being sent to India for kidnapping Western tourists.

In India, he served time in jail from 1994 to 1999 for his role in the kidnappings.

On January 1, 2000, Sheikh was freed along with Maulana Masood Azhar and Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar by India in exchange for the hostages of the hijacked Indian Airlines flight.

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Sheikh then travelled back to Pakistan. At the time of his arrest in 2002, he was a member of the terror group Jaish-e-Muhammad.

A year after the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, Sheikh made hoax calls to then Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and then Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee from prison in a bid to heighten India-Pakistan tensions.

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