of Osama informer hangs in balance By Amir Mir
ISLAMABAD - The fate of Dr
Shakeel Afridi, the Pakistani physician who helped
the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
track down and kill al-Qaeda chief Osama bin
Laden, hangs in the balance a year after his
arrest by Pakistani security agencies on a charge
of carrying out a fake vaccination campaign in
Abbottabad to obtain DNA samples of Bin Laden's
In the early hours of May
2, 2011, a joint military force led by US Navy
SEALS attacked a compound in Abbottabad in Khyber
Pakhtunkhwa province 50 kilometers northeast of
the capital Islamabad and killed Bin Laden. He had
evaded detection for 10 years after fleeing from
Afghanistan in late 2001 at the height of the
US-led invasion to oust the Taliban regime.
Afridi, who is under arrest for treason,
has already confessed to
having conducted a fake
polio vaccination drive in the Bilal Town area of
Abbottabad between March 15-18 and April 21-23,
2011, to get DNA samples of the residents of the
compound where Osama was thought to be hiding.
Afridi further confessed to having
assisted the CIA in the final confirmation of Bin
Laden's Abbottabad hideout by speaking on the
phone to the supposed owner of the compound,
Arshad Khan alias Sheikh Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, who
was the most trusted courier for the slain
Using satellite photos and
voice recordings, the CIA had sought to identify
the inhabitants of the fortified compound. Samples
of Kuwaiti's voice, which were taken by Afridi,
provided the final confirmation to the CIA that
the man seen by their drones inside the compound
was none other than Bin Laden.
Kuwait-born Pakistani al-Qaeda member, was also
killed in the SEAL raid.
reportedly told his Pakistani interrogators that
he was introduced to the CIA by the United
Kingdom-based humanitarian organization Save the
Children, an internationally acclaimed
non-governmental organization that promotes
children's rights and helps support children in
Save the Children
has refuted Afridi's claim, saying the allegation
has had a negative impact on its ability to
operate inside Pakistan.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta confirmed in
January that Afridi had been working for the
Americans and had provided information to the CIA
about the al-Qaeda chief.
disappeared soon after Osama was killed and his
body dumped from a helicopter into the sea, but he
was arrested by Pakistani security agencies from
the Torkham border on May 22 while trying to cross
into Afghanistan, 20 days after Bin Laden's death.
A high-level judicial commission set up by
the Pakistan government to probe the May 2 raid
subsequently declared Afridi a "national criminal"
and recommended to the government to try him on
treason charges. These carry the death penalty.
Led by Justice Javed Iqbal of the Supreme
Court, the four-member commission was constituted
by the government in light of a resolution passed
unanimously by a joint session of parliament on
May 13, 2011. The commission was tasked with
probing the covert American raid in which Bin
Laden was shot dead along with his son and two
Appearing before the commission,
Afridi confessed to having set up a fake polio
vaccination campaign to track down Bin Laden. The
commission then directed the government not to
hand over Afridi to the United States and to
proceed against him on treason charges.
Afridi, in his late forties and the father
of three children, is learnt to have informed his
interrogators that he once treated wounded Taliban
leaders, including the amir of the Khyber
Agency-based Lashkar-e-Islami (LeI), commander
What turned him against the
Taliban was his 2007 abduction by the henchmen of
Mangal Bagh, who thrashed him for charging huge
fees from some of the wounded militants. Afridi
was kept by the LeI militants for several weeks
and released after his family paid a heavy ransom.
Since his wife, Imrana Ghafoor (who was
headmistress at a government-run girls' high
school) was an American national, Afridi left for
the United States along with his family in 2008.
Afridi returned to Pakistan a few months
later, but his family stayed in the US. During
2009-2010, Afridi met with American officials in
Islamabad and Peshawar many times and agreed to
become a CIA mole. The Americans reportedly asked
him to spy for them in the Mansehra, Hassan Abdal
and Kamrah areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa under cover
of an anti-polio campaign.
beginning of 2011, Afridi managed to collect blood
samples from Bin Laden's compound. On April 28,
these samples were reportedly matched through DNA
tests from an American laboratory in Washington.
Four days later, on May 2, the special forces
conducted their clandestine raid.
continued presence in Pakistani custody has
clearly become a thorn in the already tense
Pakistan-US relationship. Pakistan has turned down
two separate requests made by US Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon
Panetta, seeking freedom for the doctor and his
extradition to the US.
"requests" were clearly aimed at exerting pressure
on Pakistan to release Afridi, well-informed
sources in the Pakistani security establishment
have ruled out any such possibility, saying Afridi
will be tried in accordance with the directives of
the judicial commission.
Pakistan's refusal, a group of US congressmen went
to the extent of introducing legislation in the
House of Representatives in February, seeking
American citizenship for Afridi in recognition of
"I have introduced
legislation to grant American citizenship to Dr
Shakeel Afridi, the Pakistan doctor who risked his
life to identify Bin Laden and help the US
military forces bring him to justice. If
convicted, he could be executed," said Dana
Rohrabacher. "My bill would grant him US
citizenship and send a direct and powerful message
to those in the Pakistan government and military
who protected the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks
for all those years and who are now seeking
retribution on those who helped to execute bin
As if seeking American citizenship
for the detained physician was not enough to tease
Pakistan's security establishment, Rohrabacher
announced on February 14 that he would introduce
legislation in congress seeking a Congressional
Gold Medal for Afridi.
In a statement from
his Washington office, Rohrabacher, chairman of
the House Foreign Affairs sub-committee on
Oversight and Investigation, said, "Dr Shakeel
Afridi's acts to help the US were extremely
valiant and daring. All Americans owe him our most
sincere gratitude for helping to execute the
terrorist who murdered thousands of innocent
Americans. Awarding Dr Afridi a Congressional Gold
Medal is a great honor befitting a hero who took
such great risks to help the United States achieve
a major victory."
In a press release
issued by Rohrabacher's office on March 1, he
asked President Barack Obama to "personally
intercede" in the case of Afridi in view of media
reports that the Pakistan government had seized
all his immovable assets.
leaders continue to show the United States that
they are a hardcore, two-faced enemy not worthy of
the $2.2 billion in foreign assistance the Obama
administration plans to give them next year. After
Bin Laden murdered 3,000 people in New York City,
the Pakistani government protected him for years
and now they want to punish the man who helped
reveal where he was living."
Pakistani security agencies continue to
interrogate Afridi in a bid to ascertain how the
CIA recruited him and several other civilians who
have been under interrogation since the Abbottabad
raid. This would help them unearth the recruitment
network of the Americans in Pakistan.
things stand, it is not yet clear whether the
doctor will be tried under Article 6 of the
constitution (on treason charges) or whether he
will be prosecuted for indulging in espionage
activities for a foreign intelligence agency.
In reaction to the frequent demands being
made by US government officials and
parliamentarians for the release of Afridi, the
Pakistani Foreign Office has maintained that the
doctor is being dealt with according to the
country's laws and Pakistan expects other
countries, especially the United States, to
respect its legal process by refraining from
making baseless insinuations and drawing premature
Amir Mir is a
senior Pakistani journalist and the author of
several books on the subject of militant Islam and
terrorism, the latest being The Bhutto murder
trail: From Waziristan to GHQ.
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