Four men who've spent 18 years in prison for orchestrating the 2002 kidnapping and beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl were acquitted by Pakistan's highest court on Thursday, and are now set to go free. That includes British-born Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who was sentenced to death for the crime. Testimony from the 2002 trial suggested he lured Pearl, then the Journal's South Asia bureau chief, to a meeting in Karachi, where the journalist was seized. Acting on an appeal last April, a lower court cleared Sheikh of murder and terrorism convictions, and decided he'd served more than enough time for kidnapping. The same court cleared the co-accused—Fahad Naseem, Sheikh Adil, and Salman Saqib, who were serving life sentences—of all charges. It said the four had "suffered irreparable harm and extreme prejudice," per CNN.
The men remained in custody while Pearl's family appealed. The Supreme Court was shown a 2019 letter in which Sheikh admitted a minor role in Pearl's death, per Deutsche Welle. Pearl's family said Thursday's 2-1 decision from a three-judge panel was a "complete travesty of justice" and the men's release would put journalists and the people of Pakistan at risk. The family also urged the US government "to take all necessary actions under the law to correct this injustice" if Pakistani authorities won't. A lawyer for Pakistan's government says the disappointing verdict will be challenged, per the Journal. US authorities have previously suggested Sheikh might also be tried stateside. In 2007 while at Guantanamo Bay, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, admitted to killing Pearl. (Read more Daniel Pearl stories.)