Mohammad Rauf / Mohammad Rauf / AFP - Getty Images
File photo shows Pakistani doctor Shakil Afridi, who helped the CIA find Osama bin Laden, attending a malaria control campaign in Pakistan's in 2010.
A Pakistani doctor who helped the CIA find and kill Osama bin Laden has been charged with murder in a case involving a boy who died in 2007 after appendicitis surgery -- a move that U.S. officials say may be aimed at keeping him in prison after his conviction on terror charges was overturned.
Word that Dr. Shakil Afridi had been charged with murder came Friday from his lawyer, Samiullah Afridi, who told NBC News that the case involved a boy who died after undergoing appendicitis surgery in Pakistan's Khyber tribal area.
A Pakistani government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the charges.
“The woman complained that Dr. Shakil had operated upon her son at the Dogra Hospital in Bara subdivision in Khyber Agency in 2007, even though he was not a surgeon (and) that caused his death,” the official said.
A senior U.S. official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the murder charge is trumped up.
"This is an attempt by Pakistanis to keep him in jail," the official said. "It's just another ploy."
Dr. Afridi, working with the CIA, set up a phony vaccination program in Abbottabad, the site of bin Laden's compound. The idea was to get inside the compound and obtain DNA from those inside, including bin Laden's children. Though those plans failed, U.S. officials have said Afridi's efforts did help lead them to bin Laden, who was killed in a raid by U.S. Navy SEALs on May 2, 2011.
After the Abbottabad raid, the U.S. offered to extract Dr. Afridi and provide him and family with a new life in the West. He declined.
The Peshawar-based surgeon was arrested and charged in the weeks after the raid and originally charged with high treason. Later, those charges were dropped and he was instead convicted of associating with a banned terrorist group, Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Both Afridi and the terror group have denied any connection. Afridi's family has charged that he has been tortured by the ISI, Pakistan's intelligence agency, while in custody.
In August, a judge overturned his sentence because the officer acting as a magistrate in the original trial did not have the authority to hand down a 33-year prison sentence. The case will be retried.
The U.S. official told NBC News that Pakistani officials are using Afridi’s imprisonment to “make an example of him for helping the United States.”
The murder charge, said the official, is "an insurance policy" in case the retrial goes badly for the government.
Afridi’s lawyer said he learned of the new charge on Friday morning.
“We were already engaged to handle his previous imprisonment and now the murder charges were filed against him,” he said.
The lawyer said that the administration would constitute a tribal Jirga, or court, on Afridi’s retrial on the terrorism charge in December at the heavily guarded Peshwar Central Jail, due to security threats against his client. Under Pakistani tribal law Afridi is not entitled to seek legal services of his lawyers, he added.
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First published November 22 2013, 12:58 PM