Pakistani court commutes Daniel Pearl killer death term
A Pakistani court on Thursday commuted the death sentence of British-born top al Qaida leader Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who was convicted in the abduction and murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl in Karachi in 2002 in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks.
Pearl, the 38-year-old South Asia bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, was abducted and beheaded while he was in Pakistan investigating a story on the alleged links between the ISI and al Qaida.
Sheikh, who was the mastermind behind abduction and killing of Pearl, was arrested from Lahore in February 2002 and sentenced to death five months later by an anti-terrorism court.
The incident came three years after Sheikh, along with Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar and Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, was released by India in 1999 and given safe passage to Afghanistan in exchange for the nearly 150 passengers of hijacked Indian Airlines Flight 814. He was serving a prison term in India for kidnappings of western tourists in the country.
On Thursday, the Sindh High Court found 46-year-old Sheikh guilty of the lesser charge of kidnapping and commuted his death sentence to seven years in prison. Sheikh has been in jail for the past 18 years. A two-judge bench headed by Justice Mohammad Karim Khan Agha also acquitted the three others — Fahad Naseem, Salman Saqib and Sheikh Adil- serving life sentences in the case.
The bench announced the verdict on the appeals filed by the four convicts 18 years ago. It also dismissed an appeal of the state seeking enhancement of life term of the three co-accused.
Sheikh’s lawyers, Khawaja Naveed and Rai Bashir, said since he had already been in prison for 18 years he could go free immediately that is unless the government chooses to challenge the court decision. “Justice has been done to my clients,” said Naveed.
While arguing the case, the lawyers for the appellants submitted that the prosecution had failed to prove its case against their clients beyond any doubt and prosecution witnesses were mostly policemen, whose testimonies could not be relied upon.
They said Naseem and Adil’s confessions before a judicial magistrate were defective and not voluntary.
They also argued that the recovery of the laptop from Naseem was shown to have been made on February 11, 2002, while computer expert Ronald Joseph had deposed that he was given the computer for verification on February 4 and he examined the laptop for six days.
Deputy prosecutor general Saleem Akhtar had supported the trial court’s verdict and submitted that the prosecution had proved its case against the appellants beyond a shadow of doubt and had requested the court to dismiss the appeals.