The U.S. Department of Justice says it’s ready to prosecute the British terrorist who took part in the kidnapping and killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, after a provincial court in Pakistan ordered the man’s release last week.
Pakistani police had arrested Omar Sheikh in 2002 in connection with the abduction of Pearl, and he was sentenced to death the same year, but a Pakistani court overturned the conviction in April.
“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,” Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said in a statement released on Dec. 29.
“The separate judicial rulings reversing his conviction and ordering his release are an affront to terrorism victims everywhere. 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.”
According to a book by former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, Sheikh was originally recruited by British intelligence service MI6 to conduct jihadi operations in the Balkans. Musharraf claims Sheikh likely became a double agent.
During his initial court appearance, Sheikh admitted to killing Pearl.
Pearl was kidnapped, had his throat slit, and then was beheaded.
According to a 2011 report by The Center for Public Integrity and The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, Sheikh was the mastermind of the plot to kidnap Pearl. The report cited FBI forensic experts to assert that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, another terrorist, committed the murder. Mohammed confessed to the murder at one of the Central Intelligence Agency’s black sites. The FBI identified Mohammed as the murderer by “vein matching”—comparing the pattern of veins on the killer’s hand as seen in the video. Journalist Asra Nomani, Pearl’s friend and colleague, was the lead author of the report.
The Sindh High Court order to release Sheikh on Christmas Eve prompted several tweets from the U.S. State Department.
“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,” the department wrote on Twitter. “We have been assured that the accused have not been released at this time.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.