The Biden administration on Thursday said it is ready to take custody of British-Pakistani terrorist Omar Saeed Sheikh to stand trial in the US, even as the Pakistan hurriedly concocted a review petition against its Supreme Court’s acquittal of the man accused of participating in the execution of Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl.
Washington’s shock and anger at Pakistan’s coddling of terrorism was expressed in restrained statements from the White House, the State Department, the Justice Department and Congress, urging Islamabad to review its legal options to ensure justice is served.
“The United States stands ready to take custody of Sheikh to stand trial here on the pending charges against him. He must not be permitted to evade justice for his charged role in Daniel Pearl’s abduction and murder,” the US Justice Department, under whose jurisdiction the FBI falls, said in a statement.
Washington does not have an extradition treaty with Islamabad but many terrorists from Pakistan have been renditioned to the US over the years under intense scrutiny and pressure over Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorists and terror groups.
On Thursday, the US State Department said it is “deeply concerned” by the Pakistani Supreme Court’s decision to acquit those involved in Daniel Pearl’s kidnapping and murder and any proposed action to release them.
Sheikh, it said, was indicted in the United States in 2002 for hostage-taking and conspiracy to commit hostage-taking, resulting in the murder of Pearl, the South Asia bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal, as well as the 1994 kidnapping of another United States citizen in India.
“The court’s decision is an affront to terrorism victims everywhere, including in Pakistan. We take note of the attorney general’s statement that he intends to seek review and recall of the decision. We are also prepared to prosecute Sheikh in the United States for his horrific crimes against an American citizen. We are committed to securing justice for Daniel Pearl’s family and holding terrorists accountable,” it added.
The White House too expressed outrage, with Biden’s press secretary Jen Psaki urging Pakistan to explore legal options, including allowing Sheikh to be sent to the US for trial.
US lawmakers too expressed concern, with the House Foreign Relations Committee saying “it is imperative that those responsible for terrorism are held accountable.”
Pakistan has a long history of feigning action against terrorists and terror groups it sponsors as part of asymmetric war against India when it is under global pressure, and then reneging on its commitments when the scrutiny eases.
Criticism of Islamabad double-dealing also came from former Pakistani ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani, who said in WSJ oped that Sheikh’s acquittal against US advice “is likely to attract renewed scrutiny of Pakistan’s terrorist links.”
“It could also jeopardize Pakistan’s efforts to get off the FATF ‘gray list’ of countries with inadequate controls over terrorism financing,” Haqqani, a critic of the Pakistan’s militarisation, said.
Noting that he had been warning about Pakistan’s coddling of terror groups for years, Haqqani repeated his assertion that “If it wants to keep someone in prison, the Pakistani government usually has little difficulty finding some way to do so.”