UPDATE 2 – Pakistani court orders release of Islamist convicted of beheading US journalist Daniel Pearl

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UPDATE 2 - Pakistani court orders release of Islamist convicted of beheading US journalist Daniel Pearl

(Add the Blinken statement)

By Syed Raza Hassan and Asif Shahzad

KARACHI, Pakistan, Jan.28 (Reuters) – Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the release of an Islamist convicted of beheading US journalist Daniel Pearl, a move that left his family “in shock,” reported said lawyers.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the move “an affront to victims of terrorism everywhere, including Pakistan” and said Washington was ready to prosecute Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh in the United States.

Sheikh, who was the prime suspect in the 2002 Pearl kidnapping and murder, a Wall Street Journal reporter, was acquitted by a three-judge panel.

“By a 2-1 majority, they acquitted all the defendants and ordered their release,” provincial counsel for the province, Salman Talibuddin, told Reuters.

Pearl, 38, was investigating Islamist activists in Karachi after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States during her kidnapping.

His case made headlines around the world after a video of his beheading came out weeks after his kidnapping.

Sheikh and his co-defendants must be released immediately if not required in another case, the head of the court, Judge Mushir Alam, said in a short court order.

A high court last year commuted the death sentence for the UK-born sheikh to life imprisonment and acquitted his three co-defendants, citing lack of evidence.

The government and Pearl’s parents challenged the decision and called on the Supreme Court to restore the death penalty.

The Supreme Court dismissed both pleas on Thursday.

The Pearl family were “completely in shock,” family lawyer Faisal Siddiqi told Reuters, adding that the court ruling was a travesty of justice.

“No injustice will defeat our resolve to fight for justice for Daniel Pearl,” he said.

In his statement, Blinken said the United States was “deeply concerned” about the decision to acquit Sheikh and his co-defendants and “any action proposed to release them.”

He noted that Pakistani Attorney General Khalid Javed Khan has said he intends to review the decision. Blinken added that the United States was “ready to prosecute Sheikh in the United States for his horrific crimes.”

Sheikh was indicted in 2002 by a New Jersey federal grand jury with hostage-taking and conspiracy to commit hostage-taking, resulting in Pearl’s death.

He was also indicted in 2001 in the United States for the kidnapping in 1994 in New Delhi, India, of an American tourist, who was rescued by the police.

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