March 19, 2007 / 10:05 AM / 11 years ago

Pearl murder convict to appeal after confession

KARACHI (Reuters) - The lawyer of an Islamist militant sentenced to hang in Pakistan for his role in the 2002 murder of U.S. reporter Daniel Pearl said on Monday he would use a top al Qaeda militant’s confession to support an appeal.

<p>British-born Islamic militant Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh is surrounded by armed police as he leaves court in Karachi on March 29, 2002. The lawyer of Omar, an Islamist militant sentenced to hang in Pakistan for his role in the 2002 murder of U.S. reporter Daniel Pearl, said on Monday he would use a top al Qaeda militant's confession to support an appeal. REUTERS/ Zahid Hussein</p>

British-born Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, or Sheikh Omar, was sentenced to death in 2002 for the kidnapping and murder of the Wall Street Journal reporter, who was abducted while researching a story on Islamic militants.

But Khalid Sheikh Mohammed -- the self-proclaimed mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States -- said in a confession released by U.S. authorities last week that he killed Pearl.

Omar’s lawyer, Rai Basheer Ahmed, said his client’s conviction was “a gross miscarriage of justice”.

“In the next court hearing, I am going to submit the recent statement by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in which he said he himself beheaded the U.S. journalist,” Ahmed told Reuters.

“From day one, my contention was that the evidence presented in court was not strong enough to lead to the conviction of my client.”

Mohammed admitted involvement in more than 30 attacks or plots during a hearing at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.

“I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew Daniel Pearl,” Mohammed said, according to a transcript of his statement.

Last year, Ahmed said he would base an appeal on a memoir by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who wrote that while Omar masterminded Pearl’s kidnapping, it was Mohammed who beheaded him.

Ahmed said defense lawyers were trying to get Mohammed’s original statement from U.S. authorities before filing an appeal. He said he would also seek to summon those who interrogated Mohammed.

Mohammed was arrested in Pakistan in March 2003 and transferred to U.S. custody.

Pearl, 38, was kidnapped in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi in January 2002. He was later found beheaded.

Omar was sentenced to death while three co-accused were jailed for life.

The convicts appealed to the Sindh provincial High Court in July 2002. The government also appealed to the same court, asking for enhancement of the punishment for the co-accused.

But court hearings have been repeatedly postponed, mostly because of the absence of lawyers representing the convicts.

Under Pakistani law, a convict has the right to appeal in superior courts but no case can be heard if one of the lawyers of the convict is absent.

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