Changed by Kandahar hostages, terrorist now escapes Pak rope in Daniel Pearl case

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani court reversed on Thursday the death sentence of the British-born terrorist who had been convicted of the 2002 kidnapping and murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl and, before that, spent time in an Indian jail until he was exchanged for the hostages of the Kandahar kidnapping in 1999.

The Sindh High Court converted Sheikh's death sentence to a seven-year prison sentence and acquitted his three accomplices, Fahad Naseem and Sheikh Adil, who had been sentenced to life in prison by a lower court.

As Sheikh has been in prison for the past 18 years, his seven-year sentence will count from the time he was imprisoned. Omar has already spent 18 years in prison, 11 years more than the punishment that was given. His release orders will be issued soon and will be out in a few days, Sheikh's lawyer Khwaja Naveed Ahmed told TOI.

In 2002, an anti-terror court in Hyderabad handed over the death sentence to Sheikh, a close associate of the founder of Jaish-e-Muhammad, and life imprisonment for his accomplices in Pearl's kidnapping and murder. The four convicts contested the decision in the superior court. At a hearing last month, the court reserved its ruling on the appeals pending before him for the past 18 years.

Pearl, who was the head of The Wall Street Journal's office in South Asia, disappeared in January 2002 from the southern port city of Karachi. US authorities received video footage of his beheading at the US consulate in Karachi. His body was later found in a militant hideout in the port city.

Prosecutors said Pearl entered the Sheikh trap after she was promised an interview with a cleric linked to militancy. The sheik's association with jihadist activity dates back to the early 1990s. In 1994, he was arrested in Delhi for allegedly kidnapping four Westerners, including three British and one American, from Kashmir.

In 1999, while still serving a prison sentence, an Indian Airlines plane was hijacked from Kathmandu to Kandahar in Afghanistan. In exchange for the 155 hostages on the plane, Sheikh was released from prison along with Mushtaq Zargar, a Kashmiri militant.

Before coming to India to fight for Kashmiri Muslims, Sheikh had been involved in jihadist activities in Bosnia. Born to a conservative Muslim family based in London in 1973, he dropped out of a statistical course at the London School of Economics to go to Bosnia.