PESHAWAR, Pakistan – A local Pakistani government handed down murder charges this week against a doctor who helped the CIA track down Osama bin Laden, a move that could worsen already strained ties between Washington and Islamabad.
Dr. Shakil Afridi was hailed as a hero by U.S. officials for organizing a fake vaccination campaign in Abbottabad on behalf of the CIA in a bid to collect DNA and otherwise confirm the identity of the Al Qaeda leader.
A raid by U.S. SEALs in May 2011 killed Bin Laden. The raid outraged Pakistan, however, where many view Afridi as a traitor in a country deeply suspicious of foreign intelligence agencies operating in its midst.
The helicopter raid was an embarrassment for Pakistan, which has said it wasn’t aware the world's most-wanted man was living a short distance from a military complex.
The Khyber Agency registered the murder case Thursday, charging Afridi in connection with the death of a teenage boy he operated on eight years ago. The charge was based on a complaint filed five months ago by the teenager’s mother, Naseeba Gul, a resident of Khyber Agency. Afridi is a general practitioner rather than a surgeon.
Afridi has been in jail since May 2012 on charges of “conspiring against the state.” He initially received a 33-year prison term for providing money and medical treatment to patients belonging to the banned militant organization Lashkar-i-Islam, or Army of Islam.
But in August, a judicial officer overturned his prison sentence and ordered a new trial on the grounds that the person who sentenced the doctor wasn’t authorized to hear the case. The Khyber Agency bordering Afghanistan is a semi-autonomous political entity where tribal law applies rather than the Pakistani courts. The government’s interests are represented by a political agent.
Samiullah Afridi, an attorney who represented the doctor in the earlier Lashkar-i-Islam trial, said the local administration has abused its authority with this latest case. (Afridi is a common name in the area and the two are not related.)
“The motive behind this fresh murder case is to keep Dr. Afridi behind bars,” he said, questioning why the case was coming up now though the incident happened years ago. “This is unfair."
Samiullah Afridi said the latest case alleges that Afridi conducted a hernia operation and two other surgical procedures on Gul’s son that led to his death.
The U.S. considers Pakistan’s cooperation important in fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban and negotiating an end to the 12-year war in Afghanistan.
Special correspondents Ali reported from Peshawar and Aoun Sahi from Islamabad and Times staff writer Magnier from New Delhi.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times