Pakistan to release Daniel Pearl's killer... maybe

In January of 2002, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was lured to Karachi by a supposed informant promising information for a story that Pearl was working on. This turned out to be a ruse, and Pearl was kidnapped by terrorists after he arrived. Not long after, the terrorists decapitated Pearl in a gruesome fashion and sent a videotape of the execution to the United States Consulate in Pakistan. The following month, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, a British national, was arrested along with three coconspirators. Sheikh was sentenced to death and his three henchmen were given life in prison for the killing.

But Sheikh was never executed and remained in prison. Then, in April of this year, the provincial Sindh High Court overturned the convictions of all of the men on all charges except for kidnapping. They then ordered his release. Following objections, the country’s highest court ruled that Sheikh be kept in prison while the ruling was appealed, but now the Sindh High Court has overturned that order, stating that Sheikh must be set free while the appeals process plays out. Another motion seeks to prevent this, but the clock is ticking. (Associated Press)

A provincial court in Pakistan on Thursday ordered the man charged in the 2002 murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl freed, his defense lawyer said.

The Sindh High Court’s release order overturns a decision by Pakistan’s top court that Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the key suspect in Pearl’s slaying, should remain in custody, his lawyer said. Sheikh was acquitted of murdering Pearl earlier this year, but has been held while Pearl’s family appeals the acquittal.

Sheikh’s lawyer Mehmood A. Sheikh, with whom he is not related, called for his client to be released immediately.

“The detention order is struck down,” said Faisal Siddiqi, the Pearl family lawyer. Sheikh will be freed until the appeal is completed, he said, but will be returned to prison if the family is successful in overturning the acquittal.

This entire affair has been both confusing and dismaying. As far as the Sindh High Court ruling in April goes, it wasn’t a total exoneration of Sheikh. They left his conviction for kidnapping in place. But the maximum sentence for kidnapping over there is seven years and Sheikh has already done more than that, leading to the order for his release. It’s still unclear whether Sheikh will be let loose or not, however. The Wall Street Journal published a followup report on this story, indicating that the prosecutor general for the province stated that he would ensure Sheikh remained behind bars while the appeal plays out, basing his call on a previous supreme court ruling.

The provincial court that’s been tossing out all of these rulings favorable to Sheikh clearly seems to have a soft spot for the terrorists in their country. Simply seeking to allow the killer to go free while the appeals process plays out is a huge risk. Keep in mind that Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh isn’t some innocent bystander who suddenly got swept up in all of this action. He was raised in Great Britain, but as a young man, he dropped out of school to travel to Pakistan and join a jihadist group. Not long after, in 1994, he and his terrorist colleagues were arrested in India for kidnapping a busload of western tourists. Unfortunately, he was released in a prisoner exchange in 1999. He returned to Pakistan to continue his “work” with his terror cell until he kidnapped Pearl a few years later.

If they cut this guy loose, he’s going to be in the wind before anyone can say “boo” and his terrorist buddies will almost certainly find a way to sneak him back out into the mountains for a hero’s welcome. The Pakistani government officials are still talking a good game in terms of wanting to keep Sheikh locked up, but I’m not sure how strong their resolve is today. They’ve never been reliable allies, though they have wisely sought to avoid incurring the ire of the United States where possible. But consider the fact that bin Laden somehow “mysteriously” managed to live in comfort in their country for years without being discovered. Pakistan was a lot more cautious about angering us when we were first busting into Afghanistan and had large forces near their border. Perhaps that respect is eroding the closer we get to vacating the area.