The United States has criticised a Pakistani court for overturning the death sentence of British-born top al-Qaeda leader Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh. 46-year-old Sheikh was convicted in the abduction and murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl in Karachi in 2002 in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attack.
The US’ response comes after the Sindh High Court yesterday found Sheikh guilty of the lesser charge of kidnapping and commuted his death sentence to seven years in prison. The court also acquitted three others who were previously convicted.
In a tweet, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Alice Wells called the verdict an affront to victims of terrorism everywhere.
United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Commissioner Anurima Bhargava said the verdict showed not only the lack of accountability for Pearl’s murder but also the misplaced priorities of the Pakistani legal system.
Congressman Brad Sherman conveyed his view to Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US, calling the decision outrageous.
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 country’s powerful spy agency ISI and al-Qaeda.
Sheikh was freed by India along with Jaish-e-Mohammed founder Masood Azhar in Kandahar in December 1999, in exchange for the passengers of Indian Airlines flight IC-814 that was hijacked by a group of Pakistani terrorists.