PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A Pakistani doctor who helped the CIA locate down Osama bin Laden's location under the cover of through a fake vaccination drive campaign in the city of Abbottabad was convicted Wednesday of treason and sentenced to 33 years in prison, a senior official in Pakistan said.
A tribal court here in north — western Pakistan found the doctor, Shakil Afridi, guilty of acting against the state, said Mutahir Zeb Khan, the administrator for the Khyber tribal region. Along with the prison term, the court imposed a fine of $3,500. Afridi, who may appeal the verdict, was then sent to Central Prison in Peshawar.
He had been charged under a British-era regulation for frontier crimes that unlike the Pakistan national criminal code does not carry the death penalty for treason. Under Pakistani penal law, Afridi almost certainly would have received the death penalty, a Pakistani lawyer said.
Afridi's fate has been an added source of tension. The decision appeared likely to add to the strained relations between Pakistan and the United States, at a time when the two countries remain at loggerheads over reopening supply lines through Pakistan to Afghanistan.
In Washington, Obama administration officials expressed anger and frustration at the tribal court's decision, but indicated that U.S. officials were working quietly behind the scenes to shorten the sentence or appeal it altogether.
"The doctor was never asked to spy on Pakistan," said a senior U.S. official with knowledge of counterterrorism operations against al-Qaida in Pakistan, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to talk candidly about the sentencing. "He was asked only to help locate al-Qaida terrorists, who threaten Pakistan and the U.S. He helped save Pakistani and American lives."
On Capitol Hill, two of the Senate's leading voices on national security, Carl Levin, D-Mich., who is the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and John McCain of Arizona, the panel's ranking Republican, angrily denounced the court's sentence.
"What Dr. Afridi did is the furthest thing from treason," the senators said in a statement. "It was a courageous, heroic and patriotic act, which helped to locate the most wanted terrorist in the world -- a mass murderer who had the blood of many innocent Pakistanis on his hands."
In January, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta confirmed that the United States had been working with Afridi while trying to verify the location of gain access to bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad in the months before the raid. U.S. officials had previously said that the doctor had been running a phony hepatitis B vaccination program as a ruse to obtain DNA evidence from members of bin Laden's family, who were thought to be hiding in the city. U.S. officials say Afridi did not know the identity of his target.
According to Pakistani security officials, Afridi admitted to helping the CIA before the raid by Navy SEALs that killed bin Laden in May 2011. That operation angered Pakistani officials, who had not been informed ahead of time and who viewed it as a violation of the country's sovereignty and because they were not told about it ahead of time.