By Asif Shahzad
ISLAMABAD, February 2 (Reuters) – Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the release from prison of Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh, one of the leaders in the kidnapping and murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl by al-Qaeda and Islamist activists Pakistani in 2002.
The Pakistani government appealed to the court on Friday to reconsider its decision to release the British-born Islamist and three other people convicted in the case, a day after their acquittal by a panel of three judges.
The United States has also expressed concern over Sheikh’s acquittal, and senior US diplomat Antony Blinken reiterated a call for accountability in his first phone call with Pakistan’s foreign minister on Friday.
The review panel, headed by Judge Omar Ata Bandyal, upheld the decision to acquit and recommended that Sheikh be transferred to a “nursing home” before being fully released.
“He should be moved to a comfortable residential environment, something like a nursing home where he can live a normal life,” the judge said.
As the government makes the necessary arrangements over the next two days, Sheikh will be kept in a comfortable environment in the prison with permission to see his family, the court said.
“It’s not total freedom. It’s a step towards freedom,” the prisoner’s father, Saeed Sheikh, told Reuters Television.
The terms of Sheikh’s release will become clearer once a written order is made public.
On assignment for the Wall Street Journal in the months following Al Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks on the United States, Pearl was abducted in Karachi and then beheaded. Al Qaeda’s number three leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed confessed to killing Pearl, and Sheikh, a former London School of Economics student, played a key role in luring the journalist into a trap.