The militants accused in a Pakistani court of conspiring with a doctor recruited by the CIA to find former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden said yesterday they had nothing to do with him and threatened to kill him.
Shakeel Afridi was sentenced to 33 years in jail on May 24 after he was found guilty of treason under Pakistan’s archaic system of tribal justice.
He was arrested after US troops killed bin Laden in May last year in the town of Abbottabad, where he had set up a fake vaccination program in the hope of obtaining DNA samples to confirm the al-Qaeda leader’s presence.
However, he was convicted for treason over alleged ties to militant group Lashkar-e-Islam and not for working for the CIA, for which the court said it did not have jurisdiction.
Lashkar-e-Islam, led by warlord Mangal Bagh, is a militant organization feared for kidnappings and extortion in the tribal district of Khyber, where Afridi worked for years as a doctor.
The court said Afridi had “close links” to the group, saying the doctor’s “love” for Bagh and “association with him was an open secret.”
However, a spokesman and a commander in the organization both told reporters that they had nothing to do with Afridi.
“We have no link to such a shameless man. If we see him we’ll chew him alive,” the commander said on condition of anonymity.
The spokesman, who gave his name as Ghazi Hussain, branded Afridi a “traitor, an enemy of Pakistan and of the Muslim nation.”
“Whenever and wherever we get an opportunity to kill him, we will. If we can, we will even kill him inside the jail,” Hussain added.
The court said Afridi paid 2 million rupees (US$21,000) to the faction and helped to provide medical assistance to militant commanders in Khyber.
However, the group said the US$21,000 was a fine imposed for over-charging patients.
“Afridi and his fellow doctor were fleecing tribesmen, giving them fake medicines and doing fake surgeries. We had a lot of complaints against them and imposed a fine of 2 million rupees on them,” the commander said.
Local residents also said that Afridi was fined for performing “unnecessary surgeries and over-charging” patients at his private clinic in the town of Bara.
Hussain rejected any alleged links with Afridi as “false and concocted,” saying he had been fined and expelled from Khyber “three or four years ago.”
Authorities in Peshawar, where Afridi is being held away from Taliban and other terror suspects in jail, have demanded he be transferred to a more secure prison.
The court order follows a number of character assassinations of Afridi in the media. Supporters have rubbished the charges.
“Now we have more hope that Shakeel Afridi will be freed easily because there is no proof of his link with Lashkar-e-Islam,” said Samiullah Afridi, one of five lawyers preparing to appeal the verdict and not related to him. “In the decision, it is mentioned that he had links with foreign intelligence, but it has not been identified nor does it speak about what kind of links he had.”
Afridi’s sentencing has exacerbated tensions in Pakistan’s problematic relationship with the US, where the US Senate Appropriations Committee voted to cut aid to Pakistan by a symbolic US$33 million.
Pakistan was furious over the bin Laden raid, which it branded a violation of sovereignty and relations with the US have yet to recover.