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What Omar Saeed Sheikh’s acquittal in the Daniel Pearl beheading case mean for India

In episode 435 of #CutTheClutter, Shekhar Gupta analyses the 47-year-old terrorist's life & his role in WSJ journalist Daniel Pearl's murder.

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New Delhi: Terrorist Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh was acquitted Friday in the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl’s beheading case by a court in Pakistan. Pearl was investigating Al Qaeda’s links in Pakistan when Omar Saeed Sheikh befriended him and promised to introduce him to some sources. Pearl was kidnapped and beheaded, and the visuals of the beheading were shared from Karachi.

Sheikh’s arrest

Sheikh was arrested along with three others for kidnapping and murder by an anti-terrorism squad. He was given the death sentence, but the case continued in the Sindh High Court for 18 years. The Court has acquitted him of murder charges and charged him for kidnapping. He has been given seven years imprisonment, but as he had already served 18 years, he was effectively released. The Pakistan government has said they will appeal against the High Court’s decision in the Supreme Court and the US State Department has acknowledged it.

Sheikh in Kandahar

Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh was one of the three terrorists who were released in exchange for the IC 814 hostages and the aircraft. The exchange happened in 1999 in Kandahar and the terrorists were taken in custody by the Taliban. At that time, Sheikh was just 25-years-old.

At the time of Daniel Pearl’s killing, Sheikh was 27-years-old. Today, he is 47. Given he is still young, his release can still create trouble for India. One of the other terrorists who was released in Kandahar is Masood Azhar who built the terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed and carried out various attacks in India, including the Parliament attack shortly after his release.

However, it seems any judge would have given the same judgement as the Singh High Court in Sheikh’s case. The case was badly botched-up with the police having completely messed up evidence. It was shown that he had got to his ISI handler at least a week before his arrest. But some foreigners said he was arrested before this date. Hence, there was an inconsistency. The same ISI handler, Ijaz Ahmed Shah, is now Pakistan’s home minister.

Sheikh in India

Sheikh had carried out the kidnapping of four foreign tourists in Delhi in 1994 to get 10 Kashmiri terrorists released in return. The place where the tourists were hidden was busted by the police and the captives were free unharmed. Sheikh was caught along with three others and imprisoned.

Sheikh was a student at the London School of Economics. A young Muslims in Europe, he was reported to have joined radial organisations. However, General Pervez Musharaf in his biography wrote that Sheikh was an asset of the Britain’s secret intelligence service and was being used by the MI6 in the Balkans.

A terrorist involved in the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, confessed that he was the one who killed Daniel Pearl. A forensic examination of the video footage of the beheading shows that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was possibly the one who had lifted Pearl’s head. But the two eyewitnesses who had earlier testified they had seen Sheikh carry out the beheading later told the Court they had made the confession under duress.

Also read: Three scientific and one legal update on coronavirus

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