PESHAWAR (Reuters) - A Pakistani lawyer under death threats for defending a doctor who helped CIA agents hunt al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was shot dead on Tuesday, police said, and two militant groups claimed responsibility.
Samiullah Afridi represented Dr Shakil Afridi, who was jailed in 2012 for 33 years for running a fake vaccination campaign believed to have helped the U.S. intelligence agency track down bin Laden. That sentence was overturned in 2013 and the doctor is now in jail awaiting a new trial.
Samiullah Afridi was shot dead on Tuesday as he was returning to his home in the northwestern city of Peshawar, police said. According to media, he had recently returned there from abroad after leaving Pakistan for his safety.
“He was returning home when armed men opened fire. He died on the spot,” police official Jamal Hussain said. A hospital spokesman added that Samiullah Afridi was shot twice, in the abdomen and the neck.
Two Pakistan militant groups claimed responsibility for the laywer’s death. Jundullah, a Taliban splinter group, said: “We killed him because he was defending Shakil, who is our enemy.”
A Taliban faction, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaatul Ahrar (TTP-JA), later said it had shot him. “Dr Shakil Afridi had spied on our respected and supreme leader Sheikh Osama to the CIA,” TTP-JA spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said.
“Samiullah Afridi had represented his case,” Ehsan said, “that’s why we decided to eliminate him when we can’t approach Dr Shakil.”
U.S. officials have hailed Shakil Afridi as a hero for helping pinpoint bin Laden’s location before a 2011 raid by U.S. special forces in Abbottabad, Pakistan, that killed the al Qaeda leader after more than a decade of searching for him.
Samiullah Afridi stopped representing the doctor last year, saying he had become a target. “I have been receiving threats from various organizations, and because of those threats I even went to Dubai some time back,” he told Reuters TV.
“Some organizations do not want us to continue defending this case ... Not only is my life in danger, my family is also in danger. I have therefore decided to quit this case.”
Shakil Afridi’s original sentence damaged ties between Pakistan and the United States that were already strained over the bin Laden raid. Angry U.S. senators withheld $33 million in aid from Pakistan in retaliation.
Additional reporting by Saud Mehsud and Reuters TV; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Tom Heneghan