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A Pakistani court on Thursday overturned the murder conviction of a British Pakistani man found guilty of the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002.

Instead, the court found Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh guilty of the lesser charge of kidnapping and sentenced him to seven years in jail. One of his lawyers, Khwaja Naveed, said he could go free unless the government chooses to challenge the court decision. "The murder charges were not proven, so he [court] has given seven years for the kidnapping," Naveed told Reuters by telephone. "Omar has already served 18 years, so his release orders will be issued sometime today. He will be out in a few days," Naveed added.

What happened to Daniel Pearl?

Pearl, who had been researching links between Islamist militant activity in Karachi and Richard Reid, who tried to blow up a passenger plane using bombs hidden in his shoes, worked for the Wall Street Journal and reportedly went missing in January 2002. According to prosecutors, Omar Saeed Sheikh lured him to a meeting with an Islamic cleric. The two had built a relationship discussing concerns about their wives, who were both pregnant at the time, and almost a month later, a video showing the 38-year-old's beheading was sent to the US consulate in Karachi. Sheikh was then convicted of Pearl's murder in July 2002 by an anti-terrorism court, and has been on death row since.

Who is Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh?

Sheikh was born in London in 1973, where he attended public school before going on to study at the London School of Economics. He did not graduate, failing to return after driving aid to Bosnia after his first year. He was also arrested for being involved in the kidnapping of four tourists - three British and one American - in Delhi in 1994, but was one of three men released from the Indian prison after armed groups hijacked an Indian airliner in late 1999 and flew it to Afghanistan, where the then-ruling Taliban regime helped negotiate an exchange.

At least four people were convicted in connection with Pearl's murder, including the British-born Sheikh, who was sentenced to death in 2002 for masterminding the murder.

A Sindh prosecutor said he would consider appealing against the court decision. "We will go through the court order once it is issued, we will probably file an appeal," Faiz Shah, the provincial prosecutor general, told Reuters by telephone.

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