Pak lawyer says Pearl murder key accused claims himself ‘scapegoat’ arrested under ‘US pressure’
Islamabad: A lawyer representing the parents of slain US journalist Daniel Pearl has produced a handwritten letter in Pakistan’s Supreme Court in which the key accused in the case claimed that he was a “scapegoat” arrested under “US pressure” and the real mastermind was a Karachi-based terrorist.
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.
British-born al-Qaeda leader Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and his three aides were convicted and sentenced in the abduction and murder case of Pearl. In April, they were exonerated by the Sindh High Court and an appeal against their acquittal is being heard in the Supreme Court.
According to a Express Tribune report on Sunday, Faisal Siddiqui, counsel for Pearl’s parents, has produced the handwritten letter in the Supreme Court in which Sheikh claimed that the real culprit was a militant, Attaur Rehman, from Karachi.
Siddiqui told the apex court that the letter was submitted to the Sindh High Court on July 19, 2019.
In the letter, Sheikh claimed that he was “a scapegoat” arrested on the “US pressure” and that the real culprit was Rehman.
The letter was produced during a hearing of the appeals against the acquittal of the four accused in the Pearl murder case. A three-judge special bench led by Justice Mushir Alam heard the appeals of the Sindh government and Pearl’s parents, Ruth and Judie Pearl, against the high court ruling.
Siddiqui contended that the bench must consider it. However, the apex court will decide on it on the next date of hearing on January 4, the report said.
Sheikh further said in his letter that he had been in prison under the death sentence since 2002, charged and convicted for the abduction and murder of Pearl. However, it was on public record that neither did he abduct Pearl nor did he murder him and it had been acknowledged by the US government and by Pakistan’s former president Pervez Musharraf in his book.
Sheikh said his role in this case was a relatively minor one, which did not warrant the death sentence, adding that he had already served in prison — most of which has been in illegal solitary confinement.
According to the letter, the pressure on the Pakistan government at the time (in 2002) by the US was so intense that Sheikh was used as a “scapegoat” to lessen that pressure.
“Therefore, evidence was fabricated against me to convict me of the abduction and murder of Daniel Pearl,” Sheikh claimed.
“Later, when the person (Rehman alias Naeem Bukhari) who actually abducted Daniel was arrested, he was not charged with the case because to do so would have exposed the lies and perjured evidence that the Musharraf government used to convict me,” he added.
The letter claimed that despite Rs 1 million reward money on Rehman — because of his role in the case — he was not produced in court but was kept in secret illegal custody of the Rangers for five years, then in Sukkur jail for two years and charged only with a fabricated case of possession of drugs.
After Rehman’s release, he is alleged to have organised some of the most devastating attacks Karachi has ever seen, including blowing up of the Rangers Headquarters in Nazimabad, where he was previously secretly held, Sheikh claimed.
The letter also claimed that if Ata was executed then the evidence, which would prove the truth about Pearl’s case, would be lost forever. Therefore, Sheikh requested the court to pass a stay order that would ensure that Rehman was not executed until testified in the Pearl case.
“The court is also requested to arrange for the hearing of this appeal without further delay on a day to day basis and to summon both me and Rehman to the court for hearing so that I may be exonerated of the fabricated charges against me and given an opportunity to clarify my actual role in this matter so that my sentence may be reduced, accordingly to one which is consistent with the requirements of justice,” the letter stated.
Two days after the Sindh High Court overturned Sheikh’s conviction in April, the Sindh government invoked the Maintenance of Public Order to keep the four convicts in jail.
Though exonerated by the court, the Sindh government has refused to set Sheikh free citing that he could pose a threat to public order.