This undated file photo released by the Washington Post shows Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl at an undisclosed location with a copy of Pakistan's English language newspaper Dawn. - AFP

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's Supreme Court yesterday dismissed a series of appeals against the acquittal of the British-born militant convicted of masterminding the kidnap and murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl, paving the way for his release along with three others. "The court has come out to say that there is no offense that he has committed in this case," Mahmood Sheikh, who represented accused Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, told AFP. "The court has said he should be released forthwith," the lawyer added.

The ruling follows an international outcry last year when a lower court acquitted the 47-year-old of murder and reduced his conviction to a lesser charge of kidnapping-overturning his death sentence and ordering his release after almost two decades in prison. The lower court's move sparked a series of petitions against the acquittal, including from Pearl's family.

The Supreme Court rejected the petitions in a split decision yesterday. Pearl was the South Asia bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal when he was abducted in Karachi in January 2002 while researching a story about Islamist militants. Nearly a month later, after a string of ransom demands were made, a graphic video showing his decapitation was delivered to the US consulate.

Sheikh, a British-born jihadist who once studied at the London School of Economics and had been involved in previous kidnappings of foreigners, was arrested days after Pearl's abduction and later sentenced to death by hanging. Lawyers for Pearl's family have argued that Sheikh played a crucial role in organizing the abduction and detention of the journalist, before ordering his captors to kill him.

Defense lawyers, however, say he was a scapegoat and sentenced on insufficient evidence. Sheikh and the three other men convicted of involvement in the kidnapping have been held under emergency orders by the Sindh provincial government, which has argued that they are a danger to the public.

'Travesty of justice'

There was no word on when they will be released following yesterday's decision. Pearl's family called the latest ruling "a travesty of justice" and pleaded for US intervention in the case. "The release of these killers puts in danger journalists everywhere and the people of Pakistan. We urge the US government to take all necessary actions under the law to correct this injustice," the family said in a statement.

In a statement last month, the then-US acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said Washington "stands ready to take custody of Omar Sheikh to stand trial here" after labelling the acquittal "an affront to terrorism victims everywhere". In January 2011, a report released by the Pearl Project at Georgetown University following an investigation into his death made chilling revelations, claiming that the wrong men were convicted for Pearl's murder.

The investigation, led by Pearl's friend and former Wall Street Journal colleague Asra Nomani, and a Georgetown University professor, claimed the reporter was murdered by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks, not Sheikh. - AFP