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NGO for kids latest target of Pak's post-Laden witch-hunt

By Tahir Ali
August 01, 2012 14:06 IST
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British humanitarian group Save the Children is being forced to shut its offices in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Tahir Ali tells us why

The provincial government of Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province has asked Save the Children, a leading humanitarian organisation, to move out of government offices in capital Peshawar. The action has been taken after Dr Shakeel Afridi -- who helped the Central Intelligence Agency locate Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden's hide-out in Abbottabad -- claimed that employees of the organisation had introduced him to the CIA.

Afridi is a Pakistani doctor who ran a fake vaccine programme to collect DNA samples from houses located in and around Abbottabad to help the CIA track Laden.

United States Special Forces raided Laden's residence on May 2 last year and killed the world's most wanted terrorist.

Afridi was arrested 20 days later on charges of treason, from Hayatabad in Peshawar. He was sentenced to 33 years in prison on May 23 this year for conspiring against the State. The United States administration has strongly condemned the sentence.

After his arrest, Afridi had told Pakistani authorities that he was introduced to the CIA by the British humanitarian group Save the Children. The organisation has refuted Dr Afridi's claim, saying the allegation has had a negative impact on its ability to operate inside Pakistan.

The government also plans to ban the NGO in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

The provincial government took the action after a report by the Joint Investigation Team revealed how Dr Afridi was introduced to the CIA by 'Michael, aka Mike', the country director of Save the Children.  

According to the JIT's report, in November 2008, Dr Afridi met one 'Michael', who invited him to Islamabad.

'Michael' introduced Dr Afridi to a woman named Kate, who eventually became his CIA 'handler'.

According to the JIT report, Dr Afridi has confessed that he had several 'handlers': Kate, Toni, Sara and Suee.

Dr Afridi was assigned the task of carrying out a phony vaccination campaign. In January 2011, Suee told Dr Afridi to carry out a vaccination campaign in Bagh, Muzafarabad, Mansehra and Abbottabad.

The vaccination drive began on March 13 in Nawa Shehar, Abbottabad. It had to be completed in three phases within six months. Bilal Town, where Laden's compound was located, was included in the vaccination drive after a month.

Suee had asked Dr Afridi to bring the vaccination vials and kits back to Islamabad after completing the campaign.

A 'prominent house' in the town (Laden's compound) had refused to cooperate with the vaccination staff. Health workers told Dr Afridi that the house belonged to two brothers from Waziristan region.

A health worker provided him the cell-phone number of one of the men living in the house and called him from Dr Afridi's phone.

"I am not at home, come in the evening," the man told the health worker.

In the evening, the vaccination kits were taken to Islamabad, where Suee enquired about the 'large house' in the locality. All vaccination kits were handed over to her and Dr Afridi was paid Rs 5.3 million for his efforts.

On May 5, Suee called up Dr Afridi and asked him to escape to Afghanistan immediately, as his phony vaccination campaign had helped the CIA track down and kill Laden in Abbottabad.

But Dr Afridi refused to go to Afghanistan because he presumed, wrongly, that he had nothing to do with the Al Qaeda chief's death.

Since the JIT's report, security agencies have been investigating employees of Save the Children in Pakistan to ascertain if any of them have links with the CIA.

Health department director Dr Sharif Khan confirmed that Save the Children has been asked to vacate government offices in the province.

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Tahir Ali in Islamabad
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