(WASHINGTON) — The Pakistani doctor who aided American intelligence in its mission to kill Osama bin Laden has been convicted of high treason in his home country and sentenced to 33 years in prison plus a fine, Pakistani officials said Wednesday.
Shakil Afridi ran a vaccination program on behalf of the CIA near the al Qaeda leader’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in an attempt to collect DNA from bin Laden’s relatives and verify that America’s most wanted terrorist was indeed in the compound. On May 2, 2011, a team of U.S. Navy SEALs raided the compound and killed bin Laden.
Afridi’s role, first reported by the New York Times in July 2011, was publicly confirmed by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in January when he told CBS News’ 60 Minutes he was “very concerned” for Afridi.
“This was an individual who in fact helped provide intelligence that was very helpful with regards to this operation,” Panetta, who was head of the CIA at the time of the operation, said then. “He was not in any way treasonous towards Pakistan, he was not doing anything that would in any way undermine Pakistan… Pakistan and the United States have a common cause against terrorism.”
“For them to take this kind of action against someone who was helping to go after terrorism I just think is a real mistake on their part,” he added.
One nurse who worked with Afridi but was unaware of the CIA plot and lost her job after the incident told ABC News that she considered him a traitor to Pakistan.
“It’s good. He should be publicly hanged,” the nurse said. “We do not consider him a hero. He is a traitor, a liar and a fraud. He deceived everyone.”
Sources at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad said Wednesday the State Department considers Afridi’s case “an intelligence-related matter,” and as such declined to comment. In the past, senior officials there have said they raise Afridi’s case with the Pakistani’s “all the time.”
Wednesday, one diplomatic official admitted the verdict didn’t come as a total surprise, saying “we knew they were going to hammer this guy for quite some time.”
The conviction follows an October 2011 recommendation by the Pakistani commission set up to investigate the bin Laden raid that a case of “conspiracy against the state of Pakistan and high treason” be built against Afridi.
The doctor was convicted under Frontier Crimes Regulations, a separate set of laws from common Pakistani law that are enforced in Pakistan’s semiautonomous tribal region. Though the FCR has reportedly come under fire from rights groups for alleged deficiencies in its legal process, a local lawyer told Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper that had Afridi been convicted under Pakistani legal code, he would likely have been sentenced to death.
Afridi was taken to a prison in the central Peshawar region, but has the right to appeal the verdict, Dawn reported.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Paul Cruickshank and Michael Pearson, CNN