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'Bin Laden doctor' jailed for 'fighter links'

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Afridi had worked for years in the Khyber tribal region, a stronghold of Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda fightersA Pakistani doctor who helped the US find Osama bin Laden was imprisoned for aiding fighters and not for links to the CIA, as Pakistani officials had said, according to a court document.

Last week, a court in the Khyber tribal region near the Afghan border jailed Shakil Afridi for 33 years.

At the time, Pakistani officials told Western and domestic media the decision was based on treason charges for aiding the CIA in its hunt for the al-Qaeda chief.

The government may have wanted to show a largely anti-US public that Pakistan will not tolerate any co-operation with the US spy agency, especially at a time of troubled relations with Washington.

Friction

"There was a lot of friction because of this case with the United States," said Mansur Mehsud, director for research at the FATA Research Centre, an independent think tank based in Islamabad.

"This appears to be an effort to patch things up with the United States, while also satisfying the people of Pakistan that Afridi has been punished.

"The mindset is being managed, confusion created, about what exactly he has done."

While the document stated there was evidence that Afridi "has been shown acting with other foreign intelligence agencies", it noted the court in Khyber had no jurisdiction to act on that.

But the court recommended that the evidence may be produced before an appropriate court for further proceedings.

The Afridi case has further strained ties between the US and Pakistan, already damaged by a series of events, including a NATO cross-border air attack last November that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

US officials have hailed Afridi as a hero who helped the CIA track down bin Laden, who was killed by US Navy SEALs in a raid in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad in May last year.

Safety fears

Meanwhile, Pakistani authorities said that they feared the doctor could be killed and requested that he be transferred to a more secure prison.

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

"We have requested the federal government to move Doctor Shakeel Afridi from Peshawar to another jail. We fear he could be attacked," Mian Iftikhar Hussain, information minister for northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said.

"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."


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