Pakistani authorities fear threats on life of CIA ally

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, May 30, 2012 14:52 EDT
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Pakistani authorities on Wednesday said that they feared the doctor recruited by the CIA to help find Osama bin Laden could be killed and demanded he be transferred to a more secure prison.

Shakeel Afridi was last week sentenced to 33 years in jail after he was found guilty of treason under Pakistan’s archaic system of tribal justice.

According to a copy of the May 24 verdict, Afridi was convicted of treason under the penal code, but for alleged ties to a warlord and not for working for the CIA.

He is being held in the central jail in the northwestern city of Peshawar, where Taliban and other Islamist militants are being held on terror charges.

“We have requested the federal government to move Doctor Shakeel Afridi from Peshawar to another jail. We fear he could be attacked,” Mian Iftikhar Hussain, information minister for northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, told AFP.

“There are more than 3,000 prisoners here and 250 of them are incarcerated on terror charges. These diehard militants could attack Afridi.

“Intelligence agencies also warned us about the possibility of an attack on him. We do not want a replay of the recent jail break in Bannu.”

On April 15, nearly 400 prisoners escaped a jail in the northwestern town of Bannu during a gun, grenade and rocket attack claimed by the Pakistani Taliban.

The doctor’s verdict says evidence that he acted “with other foreign intelligence agencies” could not be taken into account “for the lack of jurisdiction” in the tribal belt.

Analysts said the order was issued to justify why Afridi was tried in the tribal belt, rather than in government-controlled areas, and to taint his reputation. It was released after a growing number of character assassinations of Afridi in the media.

“The verdict also indicates flexibility,” said retired general Talat Masood.

“There is lot of space for both sides, he may be released after the verdict is possibly overturned and the US should therefore not insist on his release.”

Afridi worked for the CIA by collecting DNA in a bid to verify bin Laden’s presence in the town of Abbottabad, where Navy SEALs killed the Al-Qaeda leader in May 2011.

Pakistan reacted with fury to the raid, which it branded a violation of sovereignty.

The United States has been enraged by Afridi’s sentencing and the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to cut aid to Pakistan by a symbolic $33 million.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said jailing the man who helped find “the most notorious terrorist in our times” had further harmed relations with Islamabad.

But the court order said Afridi had “close links” to tribal militant group Lashkar-e-Islam, which is based in Khyber district, saying the doctor’s “love” for the group’s leader Mangal Bagh “and association with him was an open secret.”

It said the accused paid two million rupees ($22,000) to Lashkar-e-Islam and helped to provide medical assistance to militant commanders in Khyber.

Officials in Afridi’s home district of Khyber refused to elaborate.

Mutahir Zeb Khan, the top administrator, said only: “Reasons given in the judgement are very clear and that’s it.”

Pakistani government troops have been fighting in Khyber for years to eliminate Bagh, a former bus conductor who founded a militia well known for kidnapping and extortion.

Local residents told AFP on Wednesday that Bagh once fined Afridi more than two million rupees for performing “unnecessary surgeries and over-charging” patients at his private clinic in the town of Bara.

The people, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Afridi was summoned three times by Lashkar-e-Islam and once detained until he handed over more than two million rupees.

Afridi was the same year forced to close his private clinic in Bara, they said.

On Tuesday, doctor Fuwad Khan, director general of health services in the tribal belt, refuted a smear campaign that Afridi was corrupt and a womaniser.

“There was no complaint against him on the record so no inquiry has ever been conducted as per the official record,” he told AFP.

[Pakistani surgeon Shakeel Afridi is pictured in 2010. AFP Photo]

Agence France-Presse
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