Peshawar, Nov. 22 (AP): A Pakistani doctor who helped the CIA find Osama bin Laden has been charged with murder in a case related to a teenage boy who died after the doctor performed surgery on him for appendicitis in 2006, his lawyer said today.
The new case raises further doubt about whether Shakil Afridi, who is being held in prison pending retrial on a separate charge, will ever be freed as US officials have demanded.
The case has caused friction between Pakistan and the US, complicating a relationship that Washington views as vital for fighting the Taliban and al Qaida, as well as negotiating an end to the war in neighbouring Afghanistan.
The murder charge stems from a complaint filed by the deceased teenage boy’s mother, Nasib Gula, who said Afridi was not authorised to operate on her son because he was a physician, not a surgeon, said the doctor’s lawyer, Samiullah Afridi. The boy died from complications following the surgery, which took place in Pakistan’s remote Khyber tribal area, the lawyer said.
The lawyer, who is not related to his client, said the case had no merit because too much time had passed since the incident. The trial has been scheduled for mid-December, he said.
The doctor is currently being held in prison. He was convicted of “conspiring against the state” in May 2012 and sentenced to 33 years in prison. His conviction was related to allegations that he gave money and provided medical treatment to Islamic militants in Khyber, not for helping the CIA track down bin Laden. The doctor’s family and the militants denied the allegations.
A senior judicial officer overturned the prison sentence and ordered his re-trial in August, saying the person who sentenced the doctor was not authorised to hear the case. Afridi’s situation has sparked widely divergent views inside and outside Pakistan.
In the US and other western nations, Afridi was viewed as a hero who had helped eliminate the world’s most wanted man. The doctor ran a vaccination program for the CIA to collect DNA in an attempt to verify the al Qaida leader’s presence at the compound in the town of Abbottabad.
US commandos later killed Osama bin Laden there in May 2011 in a unilateral raid. Pakistani officials were outraged by the Osama operation, which led to international suspicion that they had been harbouring al Qaida's founder.
In their eyes, Afridi was a traitor who had collaborated with a foreign spy agency in an illegal operation on Pakistani soil.
Naseeba Gul, mother of Salman Afridi, a resident of Sipah area in Bara in Khyber Agency, lodged a complaint with the political agent some five months ago, accusing Shakeel Afridi of conducting a surgery on her son when he was not qualified to do so.
She said the doctor, currently imprisoned in Peshawar jail on charges of having links with a banned outfit, was not a surgeon and unlawfully conducted the surgery that resulted in death of her son. The surgery was conducted in 2007 in his private clinic of Afridi, situated in Bara.
“The case has been registered. Officials have given a report saying that he was not a surgeon. I will have to speak to him to find out the exact circumstances and whether he had indeed done the surgery,” Afridi’s lawyer Samiullah Afridi said.