Men charged in Daniel Pearl's murder case to be released on Saturday

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Karachi, Dec 25 (PTI) British-born al-Qaeda leader Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and his three aides, whose release in the abduction and murder case of US journalist Daniel Pearl was ordered by a court here, would walk out of the prison on Saturday as their release orders were received very late.

A Pakistani court on Thursday ordered the release of Sheikh and his three aides-- Fahad Naseem, Salman Saqib and Sheikh Adil-- who were convicted and sentenced in the case.

A two-judge bench of the Sindh High Court, presided over by Justice K K Agha, directed security agencies not to keep Sheikh and other accused under 'any sort of detention' and declared all notifications of the Sindh government related to their detention 'null and void'.

The court observed that the four men's detention was 'illegal'.

According to the Jail Superintendent, the four men could not be released from Karachi's Central Jail on Thursday as the prison authorities received orders from the Sindh High Court for their release very late.

According to the legal counsel for the four men, they would now be released on Saturday as Friday is a public holiday in the country.

In April, a two-judge Sindh High Court bench commuted the death sentence of 46-year-old Sheikh to seven years imprisonment. The court also acquitted his three aides who were serving life terms in the case – almost two decades after they were found guilty and jailed.

However, the Sindh government refused to release them and kept them in detention under the Maintenance of Public Order.

Their continuous detention was challenged in the Sindh High Court, which ordered their release. However, it asked to place their names on the no-fly list so that they could not leave the country. It also directed them to appear before the court whenever summoned.

Pearl, the 38-year-old South Asia bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, was abducted and beheaded while he was in Pakistan investigating a story in 2002 on the links between the country's powerful spy agency ISI and al-Qaeda.

A three-judge apex court bench headed by Justice Mushir Alam is hearing the appeal by the Sindh government and the family of the slain journalist against the acquittal of Sheikh.

The US has been mounting pressure on Pakistan, demanding justice for Pearl.

Pearl's murder took place three years after Sheikh, along with Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar and Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, was released by India in 1999 and given safe passage to Afghanistan in exchange for the nearly 150 passengers of hijacked Indian Airlines Flight 814.

He was serving a prison term in India for kidnappings of Western tourists in the country. PTI Corr RS RS