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Doctor who helped find bin Laden convicted in Pakistan

May 23, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
A government official in Pakistan's Khyber tribal area says a doctor who helped the U.S. track down Osama bin Laden has been convicted of high treason, adding new strains to an already deeply troubled relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan.

Shakil Afridi, in his 50s, has been sentenced to 33 years in prison and ordered to pay a fine of about $3,500.

Afridi ran a vaccination program for the CIA to collect DNA and verify bin Laden's presence at the Abbottabad compound where he was killed in May 2011.

Afridi's role was publicly confirmed by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in January when he told CBS News' "60 Minutes" that he was "very concerned" for Afridi. He was detained sometime after the raid.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called for Afridi to be released.

The lengthy sentence will be taken as another sign of Pakistan's defiance of American wishes, and it could give further fuel to critics in the U.S. that Pakistan - which has yet to arrest anyone for helping shelter bin Laden - should no longer be treated as an ally.

Pakistan's treatment of Afridi since his arrest following the bin Laden raid has in many ways symbolized the gulf between Washington and Islamabad. In the U.S., Afridi was viewed as a hero who had helped eliminate the world's most-wanted man. But Pakistan army and spy chiefs were outraged by the raid, which led to international suspicion that they had been harboring the al Qaeda chief.

In Pakistan's eyes, Afridi was a traitor who had collaborated with a foreign spy agency in an illegal operation on its soil.

Afridi can appeal the verdict within two months, a government official said.

Despite the tensions, most analysts believe the U.S. cannot afford to turn its back on Pakistan entirely because the country is vital to negotiating a peace deal with the Afghan Taliban and their allies. Also, many in the Pakistani government realize it needs to repair relations with the U.S., partly to receive more than a billion dollars in American aid.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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