Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was murdered by terrorists in Pakistan in 2002 while on assignment. Screenshot.

(JNS) – A provincial court in Pakistan ordered the release on Thursday, Dec. 24, of a British-born Pakistani man charged in the 2002 murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl. Pearl had been a South Asia bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal abducted and beheaded in Karachi. He was 38.

The Sindh High Court overturned government detention orders that Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the key suspect in Pearl’s slaying, should remain in custody. Sheikh was acquitted earlier this year of murdering Pearl but has been held while Pearl’s family appeals the acquittal.

“The detention order is struck down,” said the family’s attorney, Faisal Siddiqi. He said Sheikh would be freed until the appeal is completed, although would return to prison if the family is successful in overturning the acquittal.

U.S. Troubled
However, Siddiqi said the Sindh provincial government is appealing the order.

The U.S. State Department in a series of tweets said the court order proved troubling.

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

Sheikh’s attorney Mehmood A. Sheikh, with whom he is not related, called for his client’s immediate release; however, there was no indication from the authorities when that could happen.

The court order, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, said the provincial government’s detention orders were illegal, and that neither the provincial nor the federal government had cause to keep Sheikh or three others also charged in Pearl’s murder behind bars.

Sheikh was sentenced to death and the others to life in prison for their role in the plot. But in April, the Sindh High Court acquitted them—a move that stunned the U.S. government, Pearl’s family and journalism advocacy groups.

The acquittal is now being appealed separately by both the Pakistani government and Pearl’s family. The government has opposed Sheikh’s release, saying it would endanger the public. The Supreme Court will resume its hearing on Jan. 5.

Siddiqi, the Pearl family lawyer, said he expects the appeal to be decided by the Supreme Court by the end of January.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.