The doctor who helped the United States track down al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has been charged with murder, in the latest development in a case that has strained ties between the two countries.
Dr Shakeel Afridi, hailed as a hero by US officials, was arrested after US soldiers killed bin Laden in May 2011, in a secret raid that outraged Pakistan and plunged relations between the strategic partners to a new low.
Pakistan arrested Afridi and sentenced him last year to 33 years in jail for membership of militant group Lashkar-e-Islam, an accusation he denies. But in August, the State overturned his conviction, citing procedural errors, and ordered a retrial. Friday’s murder charge, relating to the death of a patient eight years ago, dims Afridi’s chances of going free and could further sour ties with the United States.
It centres on the death of Suleman Afridi at a hospital in Pakistan’s Khyber Agency region in 2005, and was brought by the man’s mother, said a local official.“A woman blamed Afridi for the death of her son,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“She stated that he operated on her son at a hospital in Khyber Agency, even though he was not a surgeon, and that caused (her son’s) death,” added the official. Dr Afridi’s lawyer, Samiullah Afridi, said Khyber officials had informed him about the murder charge on Friday morning. Pakistan accused the doctor of running a fake vaccination campaign in which he collected DNA samples to help the US Central Intelligence Agency track down bin Laden.
Who is Dr Afridi?
Dr Shakeel Afridi is a Pakistani doctor who assisted the CIA in locating Osama bin Laden. He ran a vaccination campaign on behalf of the CIA to collect blood samples from bin Laden’s family at a compound in Abbottabad, where US commandos killed the al-Qaeda leader. It was unclear whether he succeeded, but US officials said he had helped track bin Laden.
Critics hit back
Charities working in Pakistan criticised the fake vaccination programme. They said they feared it would lead to suspicions that aid workers were working for foreign intelligence agencies, compromising their security in a country awash with anti-American sentiment.