'Must not evade justice': DOJ stands ready to try Daniel Pearl’s Pakistani kidnapper in US

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The Justice Department said Tuesday that the United States is willing to take custody of the Pakistani man convicted of the plot to kidnap and murder Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002 after Pakistani courts have ordered the man released from prison.

Pearl, a 38-year-old Jewish American, was in Karachi investigating Pakistani terrorist groups, following leads on al Qaeda and Richard Reid, the British-born “Shoe Bomber.” After being abducted, Pearl was beheaded on video by al Qaeda operatives on Feb. 1, 2002.

“We understand that Pakistani authorities are taking steps to ensure that Omar Sheikh remains in custody while the Supreme Court appeal seeking to reinstate his conviction continues. The separate judicial rulings reversing his conviction and ordering his release are an affront to terrorism victims everywhere,” acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said Tuesday. “We remain grateful for the Pakistani government’s actions to appeal such rulings to ensure that he and his co-defendants are held accountable. If, however, those efforts do not succeed, the United States stands ready to take custody of Omar Sheikh to stand trial here. We cannot allow him to evade justice for his role in Daniel Pearl’s abduction and murder.”

In April, a Pakistani court overturned the conviction of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who was found guilty of the kidnapping and murder of Pearl, and Sheikh had his death sentence voided by a two-person judicial panel, which tossed most of the charges against the British-born man and reduced his sentence to seven years. Sheikh has been behind bars for 18 years, and a Pakistani court ruled last week that Sheikh must now be set free. Three other men convicted in the plot — Sheikh Mohammed Adi, Fahad Saleem, and Sayed Salman Saqib — also had convictions overturned this year.

“We are deeply concerned by the reports of the December 24 ruling of Sindh High Court to release multiple terrorists responsible for the murder of Daniel Pearl. We have been assured that the accused have not been released at this time,” the State Department tweeted last week.

Pearl’s father, Judea, said on Christmas Eve that he and his wife “have full confidence in the Supreme Court of Pakistan to provide justice for our beloved son and reinforce the paramount importance of the freedom of the press.”

Karachi’s state prosecutor, Faiz Shah, told the Wall Street Journal that Sheikh “will be detained” as he continues to seek legal remedies to keep the kidnapper locked up.

Georgetown University’s “Pearl Project” concluded in 2011 that up to 27 different men played a role in Pearl’s kidnapping and murder, including “a team of kidnappers” led by Sheikh and “a team of killers” led by 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Mohammed was captured in Pakistan in 2003 and faced harsh interrogations at secretive CIA “black sites” before being transferred to Guantanamo Bay in 2006. Mohammed confessed to planning the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in a March 2007 statement to the Combatant Status Review Tribunal. He has not been charged for Pearl’s murder, though it is suspected it may happen after the 9/11 case is finished.

“I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew, Daniel Pearl, in the city of Karachi, Pakistan,” Mohammed has said.

Mohammed, a close ally of al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, is awaiting a death penalty trial for 9/11. It has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

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