© Reuters. A man rides a bicycle past the Supreme Court building in Islamabad

By Syed Raza Hassan and Asif Shahzad

KARACHI, Pakistan (Reuters) – Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the release of an Islamist convicted of beheading U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl, a decision that has left his family in “complete shock”, lawyers said.

Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who was the main suspect in the 2002 kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Pearl, was acquitted by a panel of three judges.

“By a majority of two to one, they have acquitted all the accused persons and ordered their release,” a provincial advocate general, Salman Talibuddin, told Reuters.

Pearl, 38, was investigating Islamist militants in Karachi after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States when he was kidnapped.

His case grabbed headlines globally after a video of his beheading emerged weeks after he was abducted.

Sheikh and his co-accused are to be released immediately if they aren’t required in any other case, the head of the court panel, Justice Mushir Alam, said in a short court order.

A high court last year commuted the death penalty of the British-born Sheikh into a life sentence and acquitted his three co-accused, citing lack of evidence.

The government and Pearl’s parents challenged that decision and pleaded to the Supreme Court to reinstate the death penalty.

The Supreme Court turned down both pleas on Thursday.

The United States had said that it may seek to try Sheikh if efforts to keep him in prison failed.

The Pearl family was in “complete shock”, the family’s lawyer, Faisal Siddiqi, told Reuters, adding that the court decision was a travesty of justice.

“No amount of injustice will defeat our resolve to fight for justice for Daniel Pearl,” he said.

(Writing and reporting by Asif Shahzad in Islamabad; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Nick Macfie)

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