January 19, 2017
A Pakistani doctor who helped the United States find al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden in 2011 will remain in prison, despite calls by Washington to have him released, according to a government official in Islamabad. Dr Shakil Afridi was arrested in 2011, soon after bin Laden was killed during a Central Intelligence Agency operation in a residential compound in the city of Abbottabad, located 70 miles north of the Pakistani capital. In the weeks following the CIA raid, it emerged that a team of local doctors and nurses had helped the American agency in its efforts to confirm bin Laden’s presence in the compound. The team of nearly 20 healthcare workers participated in a fake vaccination scheme carried out in Abbottabad, whose true purpose was to collect DNA samples from residents of the compound where the CIA believed bin Laden was hiding.
In February 2012, the then CIA Director, Leon Panetta, publicly admitted that the vaccination scheme had been funded by the CIA. By that time, Pakistani authorities had fired 17 healthcare workers who had participated in the CIA scheme and arrested its head, Dr. Afridi. Prior to his arrest, Dr. Afridi was employed as a surgeon by the government of the Khyber Agency, a Federally Administrated Tribal Area along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. Bizarrely, Dr. Afridi was arrested for having alleged links with an Islamist group that operates in the region, known as Lashkar-e-Islam. In 2012, he was given a 33-year sentence for having links with terrorist groups. When his conviction was quashed in 2013, the doctor was ordered to remain in prison, and faced new charges, this time for alleged medical malpractice, which, according to the prosecution, resulted in the death of one of his patients.
Many American officials believe that the real reason for Dr. Afridi’s arrest is his collaboration with the CIA. In May of last year, Donald Trump said that, if elected US president, he would make Pakistan free Dr. Afridi, saying characteristically that he could achieve that “within two minutes”. But his comments prompted a strong response from Islamabad. On Tuesday, Pakistan’s…