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Pakistani doctor who helped U.S. track bin Laden convicted for militancy, not helping CIA, official says

Doctor who helped CIA target OBL jailed in Pakistan
Pakistani doctor Shakil Afridi was given a 33-year prison sentence for conspiring with a leading militant, not for helping the U.S. track down Osama bin Laden, a court judgment shows. CBS

(CBS News) ISLAMABAD - A Pakistani doctor who helped the U.S. locate Osama bin Laden was sentenced to 33 years for conspiring with a leading Islamic militant, not for the assistance he provided to the CIA, a senior Pakistani official tells CBS News.

That judgment could further complicate U.S. arguments that he should be released.

The case against Dr. Shakil Afridi has attracted widespread attention in the U.S. after his arrest on charges that he conspired against the state. Pakistani officials had previously said Afridi's arrest was tied to a fake vaccination program he ran in the months leading up to bin Laden's killing in May 2011, which obtained blood samples from some of bin Laden's family members to establish the presence of the world's most notorious militant at a sprawling compound in the northern city of Abbottabad.

The subsequent U.S. Navy SEAL raid that ended in bin Laden's death caused a deep rift between the two countries, with Pakistani officials angry at being kept in the dark about the operation and U.S. officials questioning how bin Laden could have been living in the country for years, apparently undetected.

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Doctor who helped U.S. in bin Laden raid gets 33 years

Though U.S. officials have previously said Afridi's role was not central to tracking down bin Laden, a Pakistani government minister earlier this year told CBS News that it was, "enough for Pakistan to charge this man and award a stern punishment because of his work for the CIA."

On Wednesday, a Pakistani government official in the northern city of Peshawar told CBS News on condition of anonymity that, "while the charges of Dr. Afridi's work for the Americans remains a serious matter in Pakistan, his more immediate charges are to do with his work with militants."

The official said Afridi was convicted for conspiring with Mangal Bagh, a notorious militant commander in the northern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province which borders Afghanistan. Human rights activists have already criticized the trial which took place in the semi autonomous tribal region along the Afghan border under an antiquated legal system known as the Frontier Crimes Regulations, in which defendants do not necessarily have access to a lawyer.

In a "60 Minutes" interview in January, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Afridi wasn't "in any way treasonous" toward Pakistan and called the case against him a "real mistake."

"This was an individual, who, in fact, helped provide intelligence that was very helpful with regards to this operation. And he was not, in any way treasonous towards Pakistan. He was not, in any way, doing anything that would have undermined Pakistan. As a matter of fact, if Pakistan's - and I've always said this - Pakistan and the United States have a common cause here against terrorism. ... And for them to take this kind of action against somebody who was helping to go after terrorism, I just think is a real mistake on their part ... They can take whatever steps they want to do to discipline him, but ultimately he ought to be released."

That sentiment has been echoed by other top U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who have since called for Afridi's release. Lawmakers have also expressed their outrage, with a Senate panel voting to reduce foreign aid to Pakistan by $33 million, a million for every year of Afridi's sentence.

A senior Western diplomat in Islamabad, who also spoke Wednesday to CBS News on condition of anonymity, said the latest twist to the charges against Afridi, "still makes the case very controversial."

"In legal terms, connecting this man to militants may strengthen the case for Dr. Afridi to serve time in Pakistan rather than be released and sent to the U.S. But in political terms, this case is already on the radar screen of the U.S.," said the diplomat. "Many in Washington believe he was wrongfully punished to begin with."

Afridi's family and legal team have vowed to appeal the conviction.

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