‘Bright but dysfunctional’: Who is Omar Saeed Sheikh? | Pakistan Today

‘Bright but dysfunctional’: Who is Omar Saeed Sheikh?

The British-born militant Omar Saeed Sheikh, whose death sentence reduced to seven years for kidnapping the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) journalist Daniel Pearl, came from a background many times removed from the darkened rooms where he kept his kidnap victims, according to The Guardian.

The Sindh High Court (SHC) overturned the murder conviction of Sheikh as it only found him guilty of the lesser charge of kidnapping and sentenced him to seven years in prison.

The son of a Pakistani wholesale clothes merchant from Wanstead, East London, Sheikh was a public schoolboy, a student at the London School of Economics (LSE) and a member of a United Kingdom arm wrestling team before he moved to South Asia and began hostage-taking in support of radical militants in Kashmir and Afghanistan.

According to The Guardian, “Pearl’s [allged] murder and kidnapping were not Sheikh’s first. He became notorious in 1994 with the kidnapping of three Britons and one American in Delhi. A shootout followed and the four captives were released. Sheikh went to jail without achieving his goal: the release of a leader of the fundamentalist group Harkat-ul Mojahedin, Maulana Masood Azhar,”

A Pakistan-based journalist, Syed Ali Hasan, who was at both the fee-paying Forest School and the LSE with Sheikh, told the BBC World Service in February this year that his classmate and fellow student had not always been the model schoolboy sometimes imagined. He said that he was a “bright but rather dysfunctional” student who had been suspended from school several times on account of his violence.

But it was at the LSE that Sheikh came into contact with radicals. “He told us he was going to Bosnia driving aid convoys, and he never came back to university,” Hasan said. The war appears to have been a turning point — he told police during his 1994 interrogation that he was disturbed by the ethnic conflict he saw while an aid worker with a charity called the Convoy of Mercy.

After five years in jail he was freed by the Indian government on December 31 1999 to meet the demands of hijackers who had seized an Indian Airlines jet.

From then until he was arrested in connection with Pearl’s kidnapping — perpetrated, the kidnappers claimed, in order to secure the release of captives taken by the US in Afghanistan — he lived in Pakistan as a member of Jaish-e Mohammad (JeM), a militant group accused of the December attack on the Indian parliament.

According to a Dawn report, military investigators believe Sheikh drew up the earliest plans for former president Pervez Musharraf’s assassination in 2002 and raised funds for the attacks.