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Authorities fear for safety of Dr Afridi

May 30, 2012

A policeman walks past Central Jail in Peshawar on May 24, 2012. – Photo by Reuters

PESHAWAR: Pakistani authorities on Wednesday said that they feared the doctor recruited by the CIA to help find Osama bin Laden could be killed and demanded he be transferred to a more secure prison.

Shakeel Afridi was last week sentenced to 33 years in jail after he was found guilty of treason under Pakistan's archaic system of tribal justice.

According to a copy of the May 24 verdict, Afridi was convicted of treason under the penal code, but for alleged ties to a warlord and not working for the CIA.

He is being held in the central jail in the northwestern city of Peshawar, where Taliban and other militants are being held on terror charges.

“We have requested the federal government to move Dr Afridi from Peshawar to another jail. We fear he could be attacked,” Mian Iftikhar Hussain, information minister for northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, told AFP.

“There are more than 3,000 prisoners here and 250 of them are incarcerated on terror charges. These diehard militants could attack Afridi.

“Intelligence agencies also warned us about the possibility of an attack on him. We do not want a replay of the recent jail break in Bannu.”On April 15, nearly 400 prisoners escaped a jail in the northwestern town of Bannu during a gun, grenade and rocket attack claimed by the Pakistani Taliban.

The doctor's verdict says evidence that he acted “with other foreign intelligence agencies” could not be taken into account “for the lack of jurisdiction” in the tribal belt.

Analysts said the order was issued to justify why Afridi was tried in the tribal belt, rather than in government-controlled areas, and to taint his reputation.

“The verdict also indicates flexibility,” said retired general Talat Masood.

“There is lot of space for both sides, he may be released after the verdict is possibly overturned and the US should therefore not insist on his release.”Afridi worked for the CIA by collecting DNA to verify bin Laden's presence in the town of Abbottabad, where Navy SEALs killed the Al-Qaeda leader in May 2011.

Pakistan reacted with fury to the raid, which it branded a violation of sovereignty.

The United States has been enraged by Afridi's sentencing and the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to cut aid to Pakistan by a symbolic $33 million.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said jailing the man who helped find “the most notorious terrorist in our times” had harmed efforts to repair relations been Islamabad and Washington.

But the court order said Afridi had “close links” to tribal militant group Lashkar-i-Islam, saying the doctor's “love” for the group's leader Mangal Bagh “and association with him was an open secret.”It said the accused provided two million rupees to Lashkar-i-Islam and helped to provide medical assistance to militant commanders in Khyber, in the tribal belt.

Officials in Afridi's home district of Khyber refused to elaborate.

Mutahir Zeb Khan, the top administrator, said only: “Reasons given in the judgement are very clear and that's it.”On Tuesday, doctor Fuwad Khan, director general of health services in the tribal belt, refuted a smear campaign that Afridi was corrupt and a womaniser.

“There was no complaint against him on the record so no inquiry has ever been conducted as per the official record,” he told AFP.