The family of slain American journalist Daniel Pearl says they are in "complete shock" after Pakistan's Supreme Court on Thursday ordered his Pakistani-British killer's release after the family appealed a previously overturned conviction ruling. He and his accomplices were acquitted by a panel of three judges and will never again see a prison cell over the crime.
"By a majority of two to one, they have acquitted all the accused persons and ordered their release," Reuters reports, citing a Pakistani courts official. The main suspect in Pearl's Murder, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, had earlier been found guilty of luring the journalist to a meeting in 2002 in Karachi while he was investigating possible links between Richard C. Reid, known as the "Shoe Bomber", and Pakistani jihadists.
Later the same year the US embassy in Pakistan was subsequently mailed a gruesome beheading video confirmed to be that of 38-year-old Wall Street Journal reporter and California native Daniel Pearl.
"Today’s decision is a complete travesty of justice," Pearl's family said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday in follow-up that the US is "outraged" by the ruling:
Speaking at the White House briefing Thursday, Psaki said the decision "is an affront to terrorism victims everywhere, including in Pakistan," and she called 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."
Psaki said the Pakistani court’s actions underscored the administration’s commitment to secure justice for Pearl’s family.
It could serve to severely damage US-Pakistani relations while already shaky, and further Reuters writes that the United States could seek to have Sheikh extradited.
"The United States had said it may seek to try Sheikh if efforts to keep him in prison failed in what experts say could be a challenging factor in Pakistan’s relationship with the Washington. It comes as a new U.S. administration is reviewing Afghanistan’s peace process, in which Pakistan is a key player," according to Reuters.
The horrific slaying had been an early example in the 'war on terror' years of the gruesome lengths that al-Qaeda and other Islamist terror organizations would go to in order to send a "message" to the West, with multiple such beheading videos later coming out of Iraq and Syria.