The Pakistani authorities ordered Friday that four men, including a British militant convicted of murdering US journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002, were detained for three months despite a lower court decision to overturn their convictions should.
The High Court in Sindh province acquitted the four on Thursday, including the British Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who was sentenced to death in 2002 for murdering Pearl. The other three were sentenced to life.
The 38-year-old Wall Street Journal reporter, Pearl, investigated militants in the city of Karachi, the capital of Sindh, after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States when he was kidnapped in January 2002. He was beheaded weeks later.
The Ministry of Interior of the Sindh provincial government ordered the four to be arrested and arrested before they were released from prison.
"The government of Sindh has sufficient reason for Ahmed Omar Sheikh and Fahad Nasim Ahmed, Syed Salman Saqib and Sheikh Muhammad Adil to be arrested and detained for a period of three months from the date of the arrest (April 2, 2020)," he said Department head officials said in the order seen by Reuters.
The official cited concerns that the released men could act "against the country's interests."
The law to keep them in detention has been used frequently by the government to detain high-profile suspects, especially militants, after they have not been successfully prosecuted.
The United States denounced the four on Thursday, and the leading US diplomat for South Asia wrote on Twitter that it was "an affront to the victims of terrorism everywhere."
Pakistan joined the US-led "war on terrorism" after the September 11 attacks on the United States, but has been suspected of having been secretly used by some militant factions for years as tools for its decades-long confrontation with rival India to have supported.
Pakistan denies this, but has been closely scrutinized by a global terrorist financing watchdog, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), as the agency is often unable to track terrorist cases.
The arrest of the four again gives the government time to appeal against their acquittal.
A senior official from the Pakistani government told Reuters that the state would appeal Thursday's Sindh High Court ruling, which the United States welcomed.
"We welcome Pakistan's decision to appeal the verdict," said Alice Wells, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Affairs.
Sheikh was born in Great Britain and enjoyed a privileged upbringing and studied at the London School of Economics.
He was arrested in India because he was involved in the kidnapping of western tourists in 1994 when he supported Muslim separatists who were fighting Indian security forces in the disputed Kashmir region.
He was one of three men released from prison after militants hijacked an Indian airliner in late 1999 and flew to Afghanistan, where the then-ruling Taliban government helped negotiate an exchange.