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FBI pins Laden hope on doctor

Islamabad, Nov. 3: American investigators are questioning a prominent Pakistani surgeon whom they believe gave Osama bin Laden medical treatment after he escaped from his hiding place in the Tora Bora mountains of Afghanistan.

They suspect that Amir Aziz, 46, a British-trained orthopaedic surgeon, can help solve the mystery of whether the world’s most wanted man is dead or alive.

Aziz was arrested in Lahore two weeks ago by Pakistani military intelligence and FBI agents after al Qaida prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, revealed his name. A regular visitor to Afghanistan, Aziz was close to the Taliban leadership and helped them to set up a medical college in Kandahar.

According to colleagues, he first operated on Laden two years ago. He was in the country during the US bombing and treated Taliban injured in fighting in the north before escaping.

FBI officials believe that he treated Laden again last December after the terrorist leader’s escape from the American bombardment of Tora Bora into the tribal areas of Pakistan. Aziz may hold vital clues about Laden’s state of health and how far he might have been able to travel.

“We are pretty sure he had been wounded in the chest from the way his arm was hanging in his last video message,” said one investigator.

“We know he had a kidney complaint. We don’t know whether he was fit enough to be on the run, or just lay wounded in a cave somewhere and maybe died there. How long could he survive without a dialysis machine' We believe his doctor can tell us.”

The detention of Aziz has caused outraged in Pakistan, particularly among his medical colleagues, some of whom wrote to the President of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, yesterday demanding that he intervene.

“As a doctor he is pledged to extend his medical help to whomsoever, irrespective of creed or colour,” said Tanvir al Hasan Zubeiri, chairman of the committee working for Aziz’s release.

Aziz, the son of an army colonel, studied in Glasgow and Edinburgh and did a masters degree in surgery at London University before returning to Lahore in the 1980s.

He quickly became known as the city’s top orthopaedic surgeon, treating the Pakistani cricket team and supporting the hospital built by Imran Khan, the former-cricketer-turned-politician.

Last night, Aziz’s family insisted that he was being held under false pretences and urged the American authorities to tell them where he was being held and let them speak to him.

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