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PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) - The main lawyer for a Pakistani doctor who helped the CIA find al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden fled Pakistan on Wednesday after receiving death threats from militants, his colleagues said.
The lawyer had represented Dr. Shakil Afridi since his arrest following the May 2011 killing of bin Laden in a U.S. raid in the northwestern city of Abbottabad. The doctor ran a vaccination program for the CIA to collect DNA to verify bin Laden's presence.
An assistant and a colleague in the northwestern city of Peshawar said the lawyer Samiullah Afridi traveled to Dubai to save his life.
"Samiullah Afridi before leaving for Dubai told me that he has received death threats from militants," as assistant to Afridi said.
The assistant and lawyer said Afridi, who is not related to his client, told them he was leaving the country to save his life. They spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid retaliation for their connection to the case.
The doctor's brother Jamil Afridi said the lawyer had not informed him about the departure, saying the family has a panel of attorneys and would have to choose another lead attorney if it is confirmed.
Pakistani officials were outraged by the bin Laden operation, which led to international suspicion that they had been harboring al-Qaida's founder. In their eyes, Afridi was a traitor who had collaborated with a foreign spy agency in an illegal operation on Pakistani soil.
But the doctor _ who is being held in a prison pending retrial on a separate allegation_ was never charged by Pakistan of helping the CIA, and U.S. officials have demanded his release. The case has caused friction between Pakistan and the U.S., complicating a relationship that Washington views as vital for fighting the Taliban and al-Qaida, as well as negotiating an end to the war in neighboring Afghanistan.
Initially, the doctor was convicted of "conspiring against the state" in May 2012 and sentenced to 33 years in prison. His conviction was related to allegations that he gave money and provided medical treatment to Islamic militants in Khyber.
The doctor's family and the militants denied the allegations.
His conviction was later overturned by a judicial official. Now the doctor faces a murder charge, which stems from a complaint over a teenage boy who died after the doctor performed surgery on him for appendicitis in 2006. The complaint, filed by the deceased teenage boy's mother, Nasib Gula, says Afridi was not authorized to operate on her son because he was a physician, not a surgeon.
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