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WASHINGTON: The White House said it was "outraged" Thursday after Pakistan's top court upheld the acquittal and ordered the release of the militant convicted of masterminding the 2002 beheading of US journalist Daniel Pearl.

Joe Biden's administration is "outraged by the Supreme Court's decision," his chief spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters, underscoring the uneasy alliance between Washington and Islamabad, which has fractured many times over Islamist militancy.

She called the ruling "an affront to terrorism victims everywhere" and demanded the Pakistani government "review its legal options."

The White House statement came after Supreme Court upheld the acquittal of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who had been convicted of masterminding the brutal murder of Pearl, the South Asia bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal, by jihadists.

Pearl's killing -- which was filmed -- caused international shock and outrage.

"The court has come out to say that there is no offence that he (Sheikh) has committed in this case," Mahmood Sheikh, who represented the accused, told AFP.

A court order said that Sheikh along with three accomplices connected to the case should "be released forthwith," though it was not clear when that would happen.

Pearl was researching a story about Islamist militants when he was abducted in the southern port megacity of Karachi in January 2002. Nearly a month later, after a string of ransom demands, a graphic video showing his decapitation was given to officials.

Sheikh, a British-born jihadist who once studied at the London School of Economics and had been involved in previous kidnappings of foreigners, was arrested days after Pearl's abduction. He was later sentenced to death by hanging after telling a Karachi court that Pearl had already been killed days before the gruesome video of the journalist's beheading had been released.

Pearl's family on Thursday called the decision to free him "a travesty of justice" and pleaded for US intervention in the case. "The release of these killers puts in danger journalists everywhere and the people of Pakistan. We urge the US government to take all necessary actions under the law to correct this injustice," the family said in a statement.

Reporters Without Borders also slammed the ruling, saying that it "will remain as a symbol of the absolute impunity surrounding crimes of violence against journalists in this country."

The ruling follows an outcry last year when a lower court acquitted the 47-year-old Sheikh of murder and reduced his conviction to a lesser charge of kidnapping -- overturning his death sentence and ordering him freed after almost two decades in prison.


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