Tuesday, Jul 16, 2002
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By B. Muralidhar Reddy
Omar Saeed Sheikh (file photo)
Three other accused in the case Salman Saqib, Fahad Naseem and Shaikh Adil were sentenced to life imprisonment. The four were ordered to pay Rs. 25 lakhs to the wife of Pearl. Police have named seven more suspects in the case, but they remain at large.
The case attracted international attention as it brought to the fore the terror network of the Al-Qaeda and its allied organisations in Pakistan after the collapse of the Taliban in Afghanistan in the wake of the U.S.- led coalition's military action in October last year.
Pearl disappeared on January 23 from Karachi while investigating the links of some of the fundamentalist organisations to Al-Qaeda. A month later, the authorities learnt about Pearl's execution in the hands of his abductors.
The impunity with which the abductors had operated could be gauged from the fact that they kept sending e-mail messages along with demands for release of some of the Al-Qaeda activists in U.S. captivity. On February 23, they sent a gory video cassette containing the last minutes of Pearl, including the details of his execution.
The judgment was pronounced in a heavily guarded jail in Hyderabad in the Sindh province. The proceedings were held in-camera. The case, originally heard by a Karachi court, was shifted to Hyderabad following threats from unidentified outfits. The proceedings were not open to the press.
The verdict does not mean that it is the end of the case. Counsel for the accused have said they would challenge the judgment. Government counsel said he was waiting for instructions whether or not to appeal to a higher court seeking a greater punishment for those sentenced to life imprisonment.
Omar Sheikh, one of the three militants released by India in December 1999 in exchange for the freedom of the hijacked Indian Airlines passengers, showed defiance throughout the proceedings. He had not only asked to be tried under the Shariat (Islamic) laws but also, at one stage, talked of dire consequences if he was sentenced.
The verdict has made little impact on him was evident from the statement read out by his lawyer on his behalf outside the jail. It said, "we'll see who will die first, me or the authorities who have arranged the death sentence for me. Musharraf should know that Almighty Allah is there and can get his revenge. Now the jehad (holy war) between Islam and non-Muslims is going on and everybody is showing whether he is in favour of Islam or in favour of the non-believers''.
Counsel for the accused claimed that the Pakistani Government pressured the judge to ``appease'' the U.S., which had sought Saeed's extradition to face charges in the Pearl case and another case in India for the abduction of another American in 1994. "There was no evidence to substantiate the charges. The strategy of the Pakistani Government is to please America even if Americans are crushing the Muslims'', he told reporters.
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