Lawyer for Pakistani doctor who helped CIA track bin Laden flees country after threats

Samiullah Afridi, center, lawyer for doctor Shakil Afridi who ran a fake vaccination campaign to try to help U.S. officials find al Qaeda chief Osama bin laden, arrives in court in Peshawar in October. REUTERS/Khuram Parvez

PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- A lawyer representing the doctor who helped the CIA track down and kill Osama bin Laden in Pakistan fled the country Wednesday after receiving threats from militants, relatives and colleagues said.

Samiullah Afridi was representing Dr. Shakil Afridi, who set up a fake vaccination program near the site of bin Laden's compound in a bid to help U.S. forces find the al-Qaeda leader in May 2011. (There is no familial relationship between the two Afridis). 

The lawyer left Pakistan after he was told he would be murdered if he did not stop defending the doctor’s innocence in a number of charges, which the U.S. believes to be trumped-up, a close relative told NBC News on condition of anonymity.

"Samiullah Afridi was receiving serious threats for the past few weeks from militants who warned him to stop pleading Dr. Shakil Afridi's case or else they would kill him and his family members," the relative said.

After the raid on May 2, 2011, the U.S. offered the doctor and his family a new life in the West. But in the following weeks he was arrested on treason charges by Pakistani authorities.

Although the treason charges were later dropped, the doctor was convicted of aiding the banned terrorist group, Lashkar-e-Taiba. Last month he was also charged with murder following the death of a boy in 2007 after appendicitis surgery -- a charge the U.S. says is an attempt to keep him in jail.

Samiullah Afridi confirmed to NBC News last week that he had been receiving death threats against him and his family. Following this his relatives and colleagues advised him to disappear from public view, the relative said Wednesday.

"As per our advice, he left the country on Wednesday and would spend some time abroad. We cannot disclose the country he left for due to increased security threats to his life," the relative said.

Other family members of Samiullah Afridi have also changed their locations following the threats.

The militants contacted his brother, Abdul Munaf Afridi, and told him if Samiullah Afridi continued with the case they would blow up his car, the relative said. The lawyer had stopped driving his car after receiving the threat.

Samiullah Afridi told the militants that it was his ethical responsibility to provide legal aid and defend the accused persons in charges against him.