The main lawyer for a Pakistani doctor who helped the CIA find al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden fled Pakistan on december 11 after receiving death threats from militants, his colleagues said. The lawyer had represented Dr Shakil Afridi since his arrest following the May 2011 killing of bin Laden in a US raid in the northwestern city of Abbottabad. The doctor ran a vaccination program for the CIA to collect DNA to verify bin Laden’s presence. An assistant and a colleague in the northwestern city of Peshawar said the lawyer Samiullah Afridi travelled to Dubai to save his life.
“Samiullah Afridi before leaving for Dubai told me that he has received death threats from militants,” as assistant to Afridi said. The assistant and lawyer said Afridi, who is not related to his client, told them he was leaving the country to save his life. They spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid retaliation for their connection to the case. The doctor’s brother Jamil Afridi said the lawyer had not informed him about the departure, saying the family has a panel of attorneys and would have to choose another lead attorney if it is confirmed. Pakistani officials were outraged by the bin Laden operation, which led to international suspicion that they had been harboring 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. But the doctor — who is being held in a prison pending retrial on a separate allegation — was never charged by Pakistan of helping the CIA, and US officials have demanded his release. 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 neighboring Afghanistan.