One year after the killing of Osama bin Laden in his Abbottabad hideout, two sacked health workers recalled on Wednesday how they were made unwitting pawns in a ‘phony’ vaccination campaign set up by the American CIA to ensnare the al Qaeda kingpin.
Authorities arrested surgeon Shakeel Afridi, who was recruited by the CIA to help track down bin Laden and was among a total of 18 health workers who were dismissed.
Mukhtiaran Bibi, alias Bakhto, one of the sacked health workers denied that she collected blood samples from Bin Laden’s family members.
On April 20 and 21 last year, a group of health workers were taken to Abbottabad to conduct a vaccination programme. However, she said Bin Laden’s house was visited by another worker, namely Amna Bibi.
Accusing health department officials of making them a scapegoat in the case, Mukhtiaran said that while they were being paid Rs400 per day for the programme, they had no idea that it was phony.
She said that following her sacking she had suffered immensely as she has separated from her spouse. “Now, I have no one to support me financially,” she added.
Amna pleads innocence
Amna Bibi who, according to Mukhtiaran, had collected the blood samples of the Bin Laden family, told AFP that she had been dismissed unfairly and demanded her job back.
“I was assigned to the vaccination of hepatitis B on April 20, and on April 20 Shakeel Afridi came himself to manage the campaign,” Bibi told AFP.
“We came to this compound. We knocked at the door for five minutes, but no one opened the door. Then we went into the house in front of Osama’s compound and asked for their number, and one girl gave us Tariq’s number,” she said, referring to one of the men killed in the May 2 raid.
“Then Shakeel Afridi called Tariq but he told him they were far away from the house and could not come back, so we left. Then Shakeel Afridi continued to call me from Peshawar to go to this compound to vaccinate the women inside,” Amna recalled.
But Amna claimed she told the doctor she had a pain in her leg and could not return, despite his further requests to do so. Then, on April 25, he telephoned and told them not to go to the compound again.
“On May 2, we heard about this incident and I called Shakeel Afridi back and asked him about the house, saying it was attacked by the Americans. He got angry and said he was in a meeting and not to talk to him. I called him again the next day and again he gave the same answer,” she said.
Shakeel Ahmad Yusufzai, who demolished Bin Laden’s mansion, said that he is proud of what he did despite threats from Taliban.
Yusufzai paid the government around Rs400,000 for the contract to demolish the compound where the al Qaeda chief hid for around six years.
The three-storey house was flattened in February and now Yusufzai gives away bricks to curious souvenir-hunters from all over the country.
He told AFP that Taliban had sent him threatening letters, but he was pleased to have erased some of the physical traces of his country’s shame.
“I am not scared at all but sometimes I think I have put my family in danger,” said Yusufzai, who has a seven-year-old daughter. (With additional input from AFP)
Published in The Express Tribune, May 3rd, 2012.