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US outraged as Supreme Court upholds acquittal in Daniel Pearl murder

WASHINGTON: The White House said it was “outraged” on Thursday after the Supreme Court upheld the acquittal and ordered the release of the prime suspect convicted of masterminding the 2002 beheading of US journalist Daniel Pearl.

Joe Biden’s administration is “outraged by the Pakistani Supreme Court’s decision,” his chief spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters. She called the ruling “an affront to terrorism victims everywhere” and demanded the Pakistani government “review its legal options.”

Psaki said the United States recognizes “past Pakistani actions to try to hold Mr Pearl’s murderers accountable and we do note that as of right now Omar Sheikh remains in detention.”

“We call on the Pakistani government to expeditiously review its legal options, including allowing the United States to prosecute Sheikh for the brutal murder of an American citizen and journalist.”

The White House statement came after Supreme Court upheld the acquittal of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who had been convicted of masterminding the brutal murder of Pearl, the South Asia bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal.

Pearl’s killing caused international shock and outrage. A court order said that Sheikh along with three accomplices connected to the case should “be released forthwith,” though it was not clear when that would happen.

Pearl was researching a story about Islamic militants when he was abducted in Karachi in January 2002. Nearly a month later, after a string of ransom demands, a graphic video showing his decapitation was given to officials.

READ MORE: SC orders release of prime suspect in Daniel Pearl murder case

Sheikh, a British-born militant who once studied at the London School of Economics and had been involved in previous kidnappings of foreigners, was arrested days after Pearl’s abduction.

He was later sentenced to death by hanging after telling a Karachi court that Pearl had already been killed days before the gruesome video of the journalist’s beheading had been released.

Pearl’s family on Thursday called the decision to free him “a travesty of justice” and pleaded for US intervention in the case. “The release of these killers puts in danger journalists everywhere and the people of Pakistan. We urge the US government to take all necessary actions under the law to correct this injustice,” the family said in a statement.

Reporters Without Borders also slammed the ruling, saying that it “will remain as a symbol of the absolute impunity surrounding crimes of violence against journalists in this country.”

The ruling follows an outcry last year when a lower court acquitted the 47-year-old Sheikh of murder and reduced his conviction to a lesser charge of kidnapping — overturning his death sentence and ordering him freed after almost two decades in prison.

That sparked a series of petitions, including from Pearl’s family, but the Supreme Court rejected them in the split decision and upheld the acquittal.

Lawyers for Pearl’s family have argued that Sheikh played a crucial role in organizing the abduction and detention of the journalist, before ordering his captors to kill him.

Sheikh and the three other men have been held under emergency orders by the Sindh provincial government, which says they are a danger to the public.

The Sindh government said it would file a review petition against the Supreme Court verdict. It was not clear how long that might take, but the attorney general said in a statement that the federal government “is extending full support” to the provincial government in the matter.