PESHAWAR, Pakistan – The lawyer for the Pakistani doctor who helped the U.S. find Osama bin Laden said Sunday he wouldn't represent him any longer after facing threats from militants, even as America pushes for the man to be freed.
Lawyer Samiullah Khan Afridi said he made the decision after he received what he described as a "final" warning from militants. Afridi said he represented Dr. Shakil Afridi on humanitarian grounds, but said it is now not possible for him to continue. The two Afridis are not related.
"Now they have warned me to either quit the case or be ready to face the dire consequences," Afridi told The Associated Press. "My family and I are under severe threat."
The lawyer also said that the undue U.S. pressure on Pakistan for his client's release also hurt him. Officials at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad could not be immediately reached for comment.
Dr. Shakil Afridi was initially sentenced to 33 years in prison in May 2012 after being convicted of providing money and medical treatment to Islamic militants in Khyber tribal region — not for helping the CIA track down bin Laden. His family and the militants have denied the allegations. A Pakistani court later reduced Afridi's sentence 23 years on appeal.
Afridi is widely believed to have been targeted by Pakistani authorities because of running the vaccination program that collected DNA to try to verify bin Laden's presence in the town of Abbottabad. U.S. commandos killed the al-Qaida chief in a unilateral raid in 2011, angering and embarrassing Pakistan's government. In their eyes, Afridi was a traitor who had collaborated with a foreign spy agency in an illegal operation on Pakistani soil.
Afridi through his lawyers has denied helping the CIA, though U.S. lawmakers have confirmed he had a role in the hunt for Bin Laden. The U.S. has exerted diplomatic pressure for his release.
Meanwhile Sunday, a suicide bombing targeting refugees registering with the government killed five people in northwestern city of Peshawar, police official Najibullah Khan said. The blast, which struck as refugees stood in line at a soccer field, also wounded 12, Khan said.
He said officials were registering people who had been displaced by fighting in the nearby Khyber tribal region.
Also Sunday, two roadside bomb blasts killed a Pakistani paramilitary soldier and wounded four in the town of Mamund in the Bajur tribal region near the Afghan border, local government official Abdul Haseeb Khan said.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Pakistan's local Taliban have been fighting against the state in a bid to overthrow the government and install their own harsh brand of Islamic Shariah. They've killed thousands of people.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has made negotiations with the militants a centerpiece of his government policy since he took office last summer, though no deal has been struck.
Cricketer turned politician Imran Khan also shared Sharif's stance on negotiations with the militants, but he has been accusing the prime minister's government of rigging the last year's elections.
On Sunday, Khan's party held a rally on a main thoroughfare across Pakistani parliament, with thousands of supporters attending. Khan demanded the government to sack the members of the Pakistani election commission for what he alleged was the rigging of last year's elections.
Khan announced that his party would keep on holding such rallies in various Pakistani cities until electoral reforms ensured fair elections.