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Militant group denies link to Pak doctor

LI is a relatively small militant group based in Khyber

Written by Reuters | Peshawar | Published: June 1, 2012 1:26:49 am

Deepening the mystery in a case that is straining Islamabad’s relations with Washington,a Pakistani militant group said on Thursday it never had ties to a doctor who helped the CIA find Osama bin Laden,even though he was jailed for aiding them.

Last week,after Shakil Afridi was convicted by a court in the Khyber tribal region near the Afghan border,Pakistani officials said the decision was based on treason charges for helping CIA and conspiring against the state.

After that announcement rankled the United States,Pakistani officials also said the doctor had a history of womanising,sexual harassment,assault and stealing,allegations that could not be independently confirmed.

A court document released on Wednesday stated that Afridi was imprisoned for 33 years for supporting the Lashkar-e-Islam (LI) militant group.

“There is no truth to this. We want to get him ourselves. If we get hold of him,we are going to punish him according to sharia law,” Abdul Rasheed,an LI commander,told Reuters.

Rasheed said Afridi was a bad doctor who had mistreated people and that was why the militants wanted to punish him. “He is a traitor,an enemy of Islam,a greedy blackmailer,” he said.

LI is a relatively small militant group based in Khyber,one of seven ethnic Pashtun tribal districts along the border that never came under full government control. It is not allied with any of the other major militant groups operating in nuclear-armed Pakistan.

Rasheed’s comments are likely to raise new questions about Afridi’s case,which has come to symbolise the strains in the alliance between Pakistan and the United States. US officials hail Afridi as a hero who helped the CIA track down bin Laden.

The al-Qaeda chief was killed by US Navy SEALs in a raid in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad in May last year.

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta suggested Afridi’s sentence would hurt efforts to repair ties damaged by several events,including the unilateral raid that killed bin Laden.

The United States and Pakistan are deadlocked in talks over re-opening supply routes through Pakistan to NATO troops in Afghanistan.

In Washington,government sources said the United States was making strenuous efforts to win Afridi’s release from jail.

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