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Pakistan boots Save the Children staff over links to doctor Shakil Afridi, who helped CIA

Shakil Afridi seen over an image of Osama bin Laden's now-leveled compound in Abbottabad
Pakistani doctor Shakil Afridi seen over an image of Osama bin Laden's now-leveled compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. CBS/AP

(CBS News) ISLAMABAD - Pakistan has ordered Save the Children's foreign staff members to leave the country within two weeks - a decision apparently taken over the government's suspicions that the global charity facilitated a false vaccination program that may have helped the CIA track down Osama bin Laden in the northern city of Abbottabad last year.

"I can confirm that the Pakistani government has asked our expatriate staff to leave the country within two weeks. Altogether, this decision will affect six of our non Pakistani colleagues", Ghulam Qadri, the group's head of program and planning in Islamabad, told CBS News. Qadri said Pakistani authorities had given his organization no explanation for the expulsion.

A senior Pakistani government official who deals with security affairs, however, told CBS News on condition of anonymity that the decision was prompted by, "the reluctance of Save the Children to cooperate with the Pakistani government" in the case of Doctor Shakil Afridi.

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Afridi was arrested by Pakistani police and intelligence agencies following the May 2011 raid by a U.S. Navy SEAL team, which ended in bin Laden's death.

The Pakistani doctor worked with the CIA in its effort to locate bin Laden, but Pakistani officials insisted to CBS News in May 2012 that he was sentenced to 33 years for conspiring with a prominent Islamic militant, not for the assistance he provided to the CIA.

Pakistan's government and military, however, were hugely embarrassed and angered by the U.S. raid - of which they were given no prior knowledge - and his arrest is widely believed to be directly related to his relationship with the American spy agency.

The U.S. government continues lobbying for Afridi's release.

Pakistani officials initially said Afridi's arrest was tied to a fake vaccination program he ran in the months leading up to bin Laden's killing, which attempted to obtained blood samples from some of bin Laden's family members to establish his presence.

The senior Pakistani official who spoke to CBS News about the expulsion of the charity workers said Pakistani authorities had asked "specific questions about the exact nature of support extended by Save the Children to Doctor Afridi. Save the Children continues to drag its feet. They have not been forthcoming, so we have had to take this step."

A Pakistani intelligence official who spoke to CBS News after Afridi's arrest last year claimed samples collected from Abbottabad may have been used by the CIA to match against samples of bin Laden's family members provided by Saudi authorities.

However, two nurses who work at a local clinic in Abbottabad have told CBS News that they were repeatedly asked by Afridi to gather the blood samples from the bin Laden compound, but never managed to get in the door - casting doubt on the level to which Afridi's efforts ever even yielded results for the FBI.

Save the Children's Qadri denies all the allegations against the charity. He confirmed that Afridi had participated in at least three training programs organized by the charity, but told CBS News, "Save the Children has never directly or indirectly funded Doctor Afridi's work."

Qadri told CBS News that in spite of the looming expulsion of his foreign staff, "our local staff will continue to work in Pakistan. Altogether, we have about two thousand Pakistani staff members. Hopefully, our programs for the benefit of the people of Pakistan will not be affected".

This story was edited by foreign editor Tucker Reals.

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