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How Shakeel Afridi nailed Osama bin Laden

Last updated on: May 24, 2012 16:40 IST

How Shakeel Afridi nailed Osama bin Laden


AmIr Mir in Islamabad

Amir Mir reports how a physician became a CIA mole and helped locate the most wanted man in the world.

Dr Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani physician who helped the Central Intelligence Agency track down and kill Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, has literally become the first individual to have been sentenced in Pakistan for aiding the killing of the world's most wanted fugitive terrorist.

The sentence was handed down on May 23 under the tribal justice system following a summary trial on treason charges. As Dr Afridi was found guilty of the charges, he was punished with 33 years rigorous imprisonment besides a fine of Rs 320,000.

The doctor has been punished under the Pakistan Penal Code articles 121, 123, 123-1 and 124 while section 11 of the Frontier Crime Regulation, known as a draconian law, was also applied in his case.

Dr Afridi has been sentenced under penal code clauses related to offences against the State, conspiracy or attempt to wage war against Pakistan, concealing with intent designs to wage war against the State and on charges of working against the country's sovereignty.

Dr Afridi was neither present in court nor given a chance to defend himself. Under the Khyber Agency's tribal system of justice, he would not have had access to a lawyer.

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Image: Dr Shakil Afridi
Photographs: Courtesy: Geo TV


'No basis for Pakistan to hold up Dr Afridi'

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With his fate sealed, Dr Afridi was moved to the Peshawar central jail as soon as the verdict was announced.

He has been sentenced despite repeated demands by the Obama administration that the doctor be freed and sent to the United States.

While repeating the American demand for Dr Afridi's release on March 1, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated at a congressional hearing that there was no basis for Pakistan to hold Afridi.

'I think his work on behalf of the effort to take down Osama bin Laden was in Pakistan's interest, as well as American interest. We have made that view very well known. We will continue to press it,' Hillary Clinton said. She stated that the US is closely watching how Dr Afridi is being treated by Pakistan.

Clinton was responding to questions from US Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who had introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives to award a rare Congressional Gold Medal to Dr Afridi.

'If they do not let Afridi go, let me just put everybody on notice and I believe that we're going to be watching this closely -- there is nothing that could suggest that Pakistan is cooperating with us in the fight against terrorism when they have Afridi -- the man who helped us get Osama bin Laden -- in prison and are treating him this way. That is their decision of non-cooperation,' Rohrabacher said.

However, the Pakistani authorities justify the action against Afridi, maintaining that he was tried in accordance with the directions of a high-level judicial commission which was set up by the federal government to probe the May 2 raid.

Led by Justice Javed Iqbal of the Pakistani supreme court, the four-member commission was constituted in light of a resolution unanimously passed by the joint session of the Pakistan parliament on May 13, 2011.

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Image: We are closely watching how Dr Afridi is treated in Pakistan, Hillary Clinton said recently
Photographs: Jason Reed/Reuters

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'A national criminal'

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Appearing before the Abbottabad commission, Dr Afridi confessed to having set up a fake polio vaccination campaign to track down Osama bin Laden.

The judicial commission had directed the government not to hand over Dr Afridi to the United States and to proceed against him on treason charges. The commission had further declared Afridi a 'national criminal.'

The doctor used to work as a surgeon in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of the Khyber Agency, which is notorious for militancy and sectarian violence.

He was accused of having conducted a fake polio vaccination campaign in the Bilal Town area of Abbottabad (in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) between March 15 and 18 and April 21 and 23, 2011 to get DNA samples of the residents of the strange compound where Osama was hiding.

Afridi is reported to have assisted the CIA in the final confirmation of Osama's 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 Al Qaeda leader.

Using satellite photos and voice recordings, the CIA sought to identify the inhabitants of the fortified compound. The samples of Kuwaiti's voice, which were taken by Afridi, actually provided the final confirmation to the CIA that the man seen by their drones inside the compound was none other than Osama bin Laden.

Dr Afridi was born in 1962 in a small village of the Malikdinkhel Afridi tribe in Bara subdivision of the Khyber Agency. His father was an agriculturist and a known tribal elder loyal to the British government in undivided India.

In recognition of his services, the British government had awarded him several acres of agricultural land in Multan. Dr Afridi and his family used to travel to the Multan districts in winter where he met Imrana Ghafoor, who hailed from a well-educated family in Abbottabad, and later married her.

Dr Afridi graduated from the Khyber Medical College in Peshawar in 1991 and started his career as a doctor in the Khyber Agency the same year. He shifted his family from the Bara subdivision to Hayatabad in Peshawar after being appointed health officer of the Khyber Agency.

As health officer of the Khyber Agency, Dr Afridi used to treat wounded Taliban leaders including the amir of the Khyber Agency-based Lashkar-e-Islami, Commander Mangal Bagh.

What turned him against the Taliban was his 2007 abduction by Mangal Bagh's henchmen who thrashed him for charging huge fees from some wounded militants.

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Image: Dr Afridi is reported to have assisted the CIA in the final confirmation of Osama's hideout in Abbottabad
Photographs: Faisal Mahmood/Reuters

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The phone call to Osama's home

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Dr Afridi was held hostage by Lashkar-e-Islami militants for several weeks and released only after his family paid a huge ransom.

Since his wife Imrana Ghafoor (who was the headmistress at a government-run girls school) was an American national, Dr Afridi left for the United States along with his family in 2008.

Although he returned to Pakistan a few months later, his family stayed back in the US.

During 2009-2010, Dr Afridi met with American officials in Islamabad and Peshawar many times and agreed to become a CIA mole.

According to his confession to his Pakistani interrogators, Dr Afridi claimed he was introduced to the CIA by the British humanitarian group, Save the Children, which helps support children in developing countries.

Save the Children has refuted Dr Afridi's claim, saying the allegation has had a negative impact on its ability to operate inside Pakistan. He was asked by the Americans to spy for them in Mansehra, Hassan Abdal and Kamrah areas of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa under cover of an anti-polio campaign.

His CIA contact was known to him as 'Peter' whom he would pass on information through a satellite phone. According to his interrogators, Dr Afridi hired office space in Abbottabad, arranged for the testing of blood samples at a local hospital on cash payment and also hired the services of a lady health worker, who had no idea for whom she was working for.

Dr Afridi was told by Peter to focus on Bilal Town and Nawan Shehr. In April, he was told to try obtaining samples from the house where Osama bin Laden was suspected to be a resident.

Although he did not know why he was being asked to do so, Dr Afridi began to suspect a high value target lived there. He asked for, and received, an extra $10,000 for this task.

On receiving the money on April 26, 2011, he was asked by Peter to try and obtain blood samples of all residents of the compound.

In the event he was not permitted to do so, he was provided a cell number, and instructed to ask his female assistant to call and speak in Urdu with some English thrown in, as if she was more comfortable in English.

After their failure to directly approach residents of the compound, Afridi's assistant made the phone call on the evening of April 26. A male voice responded and handed her over to Khairee, one of Osama's three wives.

They spoke in English and when the puzzled female assistant found that she could not make sense of what Khairee was saying, she handed the phone back to Dr Afridi.

Khairee continued to speak nonstop in English for a minute or so and then concluded with some foul language in Arabic.

According to Dr Afridi's interrogators, he was instructed to tape the conversation. He handed over his cell phone as well as the tape to Peter after the conversation was over.

He also decided to make a copy of the taped conversation for himself as well, that was later seized by operatives of Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence.

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Image: The bedroom in the house where bin Laden was killed

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For the US, Dr Afridi is a hero; for Pakistan, he's a traitor

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Dr Afridi finally collected blood samples from Osama bin laden's compound on April 27 which matched DNA tests from a laboratory in Washington, DC.

On May 2, US Navy Seals arrived in two helicopters, raided bin Laden's hideout, killed him and eventually buried him at sea. Peter flew out of Pakistan the same day.

Dr Afridi disappeared after the operation and went underground. He was arrested by Pakistani security agencies at the Torkham border on May 22 while trying to cross over to Afghanistan, 20 days after bin Laden had been killed.

His 33-year sentence has clearly become a thorn in already tense Pakistan-US relations. Shocked over the decision to imprison Dr Afridi for 33 years, two US Senators have asked Pakistan to pardon and release him immediately.

'It is shocking and outrageous that Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani doctor who assisted the US in the search for Osama bin Laden, has been sentenced to 33 years in prison for the crime of treason,' Senators John McCain and Carl Levin said in a joint statement.

'We call upon the Pakistani government to pardon and release Dr Afridi immediately. At a time when the US and Pakistan need more than ever to work constructively together, Afridi's continuing imprisonment and treatment as a criminal will only do further harm to US-Pakistani relations, including diminishing Congress's willingness to provide financial assistance to Pakistan,' the two Senators said.

McCain and Levin said that what Dr Afridi did was a courageous, heroic, and patriotic act, which helped locate the most wanted terrorist in the world -- a mass murderer who had the blood of many innocent Pakistanis on his hands.

Pakistan's foreign office spokesman has made it clear that Dr Afridi has been dealt with according to the laws of the land and the sentence awarded to him is an internal matter of Pakistan.

'No foreign country,' the spokesman added, 'has any right to interfere in the internal affairs of Pakistan.'

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