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Pakistani Court Did Not Connect Doctor's Conviction To Bin Laden Hunt

The Pakistani doctor who American officials say was recruited by the CIA to help in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, and has since been sentenced to 33 years in prison, was convicted of having ties to a banned militant group, not for alleged treason.

At least that's what it says in the five-page verdict handed down last week by a "powerful political agent in Pakistan's Khyber tribal district," NPR's Julie McCarthy reports from Islamabad.

She tells our Newscast Desk that the verdict finds Shakil Afridi guilty of close links with the banned Lashkar-e-Islam. It concludes that Afridi was "in league" with the group's anti-state activities in the Khyber agency, where the militants systematically attack Pakistani security forces.

Afridi, Julie continues, was convicted of facilitating "the waging of war" against Pakistan. His connections to the CIA are only obliquely referenced in the papers. The tribal judge, Julie reports, "closes his verdict declaring no jurisdiction in the matter ... but says the evidence of Afridi's activities with 'other foreign intelligence agencies' should be tried before the relevant court."

The conviction for collaborating with banned militants, Julie adds, complicates U.S. efforts to press for Afridi's release. American officials expressed outrage at the news of Afridi's conviction. They had confirmed he was recruited to try to obtain DNA samples from bin Laden or the al-Qaida leader's family in the months leading up to the May 2, 2011, raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, that ended with bin Laden's death. Afridi reportedly tried, but was not able to obtain the DNA samples, according to news reports. To American officials, Afridi acted in both Pakistan's and the world's interests.

The news that he was convicted of something other than treason for helping a foreign agency is a surprise. As the Los Angeles Times notes, "up until this week, Pakistani authorities had never mentioned any pending charges against Afridi that alleged ties with militant groups."

The New York Times adds that:

"The order accused Dr. Afridi, as a supporter of Lashkar-e-Islam, of embracing an 'ideology based on hatred' that sought to overthrow the government. 'His demeanor as a public servant proves his disloyalty and feeling of enmity toward the state and government of Pakistan,' it said.

"In interviews, Dr. Afridi's friends and relatives paint a different picture of that relationship. They say that Lashkar-e-Islam fighters kidnapped Dr. Afridi in 2008, after complaints about his surgical work, and held him hostage until he paid a large fine."

Meanwhile, some Pakistani officials may be trying to cast doubt on Afridi's character in another way. The Pakistan News Service says that "in interviews over the weekend, several current and former Pakistani officials described the doctor, Shakeel Afridi, as a hard-drinking womaniser who had faced accusations of sexual assault, harassment and stealing."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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