Pakistani doctor 'had no idea Osama bin Laden was the target'
The Pakistani doctor jailed for helping the CIA hunt for Osama bin Laden allegedly told interrogators that he had no idea he was being asked to spy on the al-Qaeda leader.
Shakeel Afridi was sentenced on Wednesday to 33 years in prison for working with a foreign intelligence agency.
He set up a fake vaccination campaign in Abbottabad to obtain blood samples from bin Laden’s family as the CIA tried to confirm the terrorist's presence in a nearby villa.
The case has enraged American critics of Pakistan, who accuse it of expending more energy on punishing a man who helped track down the world's most wanted terrorist than investigating the network that shielded him.
Republicans yesterday said that US aid to the country could be withheld.
Shaukat Qadir, a retired brigadier who has been given access to interrogation transcripts, said yesterday that Dr Afridi was initially being asked to work in two neighbourhoods.
However after being ordered to focus his efforts on one house in the days before the May 2 raid to kill bin Laden, he asked his CIA handler "Peter", via satellite phone, for a payment of $10,000 (£6,400).
"He knew they were looking for someone. When the search homed in on one house he asked for more money, which he was paid," said Brigadier Qadir.
"So he knew it was someone important and he may have had suspicions but he was never told it was bin Laden."
Dr Afridi is expected to appeal against his sentence, which was handed down under Pakistan's tribal justice system, a hangover from British colonial rule.
The handling of the case has been criticised by the US, where many suspect that at best Pakistan has dragged its feet over seeking out foreign militants and at worst has protected al-Qaeda figures.
A State Department spokesman said the charges had "no basis". Senators John McCain and Carl Levin demanded that Dr Afridi, whom they described as "courageous, heroic, and patriotic," be pardoned.
In a joint statement they said the conviction "will only do further harm to US-Pakistani relations, including diminishing Congress's willingness to provide financial assistance to Pakistan."
Dr Afridi is being held in solitary confinement at Peshawar Central Prison, in north-west Pakistan. Officials said he was "weak and depressed", and was given medicine for a stomach complaint by doctors.
Samad Khan, a prison official, said: "He has been kept away from other prisoners to avert any danger to his life."
Dr Afridi's wife and three children have disappeared from their home in the Khyber tribal area and are believed to be in hiding.
Congressman Peter King, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said the Obama administration had doomed Dr Afridi by leaking details of the vaccination ruse to the media. "They put him out there," said Mr King. "I'm focused on that they disclosed his identity."
The US and Pakistan also remain at loggerheads over allowing Nato supply convoys to use Pakistani roads to reach Afghanistan. Pakistan has blocked passage since a US air strike killed 24 of its soldiers in November.
A Pakistani government spokesman yesterday insisted that the US should respect the conviction because "it was in accordance with Pakistani laws and by the Pakistani courts".