Journalist Pearl's convicted killer may walk free

The Islamist who was convicted of the murder and beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002 may be released from prison in Pakistan.

The country's supreme court on Thursday ordered the release of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, a decision that lawyers representing Pearl's family branded a "travesty of justice" that has left his loved ones in "complete shock."

Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh was the main suspect in the 2002 kidnapping and killing of Pearl, who was abducted in Karachi while investigating militants in the days after the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

Video of Pearl's beheading that emerged at the time grabbed international headlines.

Sheikh was released by a panel of three judges by a majority vote of two to one, a provincial advocate general told Reuters.

It was not immediately clear whether "acquittal" meant a finding of not guilty, or if Sheikh had merely finished his jail terms.

He has served 18 years in prison.

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

According to the head of the court panel, Sheikh and three co-accused are to be released if they are not required in any other cases.

The process can take several days.

The government and Pearl's parents have challenged the court decision and asked the Supreme Court to reinstate the death penalty - pleas it turned down on Thursday.

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