In statement, senior official acknowledges Pakistan government’s efforts to appeal the judicial rulings reversing Sheikh’s conviction and ordering his release
Acting U.S. Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen on Tuesday said that the United States “stands ready” to take custody of Omar Saeed Sheikh, the primary accused in the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, if Pakistan’s efforts to prevent his release on court orders do not succeed.
Last week, the Sindh High Court ordered the release of Sheikh and three co-accused, declaring their ongoing detention “illegal.” In April, the court had overturned Sheikh’s murder conviction and death sentence, downgrading it to a lesser crime of kidnapping. It had also acquitted the convictions of his co-accused entirely.
“We understand the Pakistani authorities are taking steps to ensure that Omar Sheikh remains in custody while the Supreme Court appeal seeking to reinstate his conviction continues,” read the statement issued by the Department of Justice. “The separate judicial rulings reversing his conviction and ordering his release are an affront to terrorism victims everywhere,” it said, echoing the swift global condemnations that had erupted after the April ruling.
“We remain grateful for the Pakistani government’s actions to appeal such rulings to ensure that he [Sheikh] and his co-defendants are held accountable,” said Rosen. “If, however, those efforts do not succeed, the United States stands ready to take custody of Omar Sheikh to stand trial here,” he said, adding, “We cannot allow him to evade justice for his role in Daniel Pearl’s abduction and murder.”
Sheikh, a British-born extremist with a history of kidnapping foreigners, was arrested days after Pearl’s abduction and later sentenced to death by hanging. His appeal centered on a January 2011 report released by the Pearl Project at Georgetown University, which claimed that Pearl was murdered by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks, and not Sheikh.
Both the Sindh government and the Pearl family have separately appealed against the April ruling before the Supreme Court; that case is set to resume hearings next year.
Pearl, 38, was working in Pakistan for The Wall Street Journal in 2002 when he was abducted from Karachi while researching a story on religious extremism. His assassination sparked outrage after a graphic video of his decapitation was delivered to the U.S. Consulate a month after his abduction. Sheikh, the primary suspect, was arrested later that year and sentenced to death by an anti-terrorism court.