NGO Head: CIA Shares Blame for Murdered Health Workers
Two days after gunmen killed seven of his employees, the head of a Pakistani aid organization blamed their deaths not only on the militants who pulled the trigger, but also on America’s Central Intelligence Agency.
“The militants are taking revenge for the fake [vaccination] program in Abbottabad,” Javed Akhtar, the executive director of the non-governmental organization (NGO) Support With Working Solution, told ABC News in a telephone interview.
Akhtar was referring to a hepatitis vaccination program created by the CIA and run by Pakistani Dr. Shakil Afridi in the town where Osama bin Laden lived. Afridi and a team of Pakistani nurses worked in the town, hoping to obtain a DNA sample from a bin Laden family member to prove he was living there. The campaign failed to get bin Laden DNA, admitted a senior U.S. official at the time, although Afridi did speak on the phone with Osama bin Laden’s courier, whom the CIA used to track down the terror leader.
Bin Laden was killed on May 1, 2011 in a nighttime raid by America’s elite Naval Special Warfare Development Group, commonly known as SEAL Team Six. Afridi was arrested after the raid and remains in Pakistani custody, convicted of treason. He never finished administering the vaccination regimen he started on some of the town’s children.
The United Nations, international and Pakistani NGOs have criticized the CIA in the past, but Akhtar’s accusation is among the first times a health worker in Pakistan has directly linked the death of vaccine distributors to the CIA’s Abbottabad campaign.
Seven of his employees, including six women, were brutally killed Tuesday as they travelled in northwest Pakistan. The teachers and health workers ran a school for 150 girls, a maternity health clinic and distributed the polio vaccine. Their deaths come just three weeks after nine other vaccine workers were assassinated elsewhere in Pakistan. No group has publicly taken responsibility for the attacks, but officials suspect the Pakistani Taliban.
Vaccine distributors, many of whom are women, said they are now too scared to work anymore. One echoed Akhtar’s criticism and linked December’s and Monday’s attacks to the CIA program. They are especially angered by the fact that Afridi did not complete the hepatitis vaccinations.
“We were never threatened before the fake program of Dr. Afridi,” a female health worker told ABC News, requesting anonymity. “The militants now see us as foreign spies.”
The CIA declined comment for this report, but a senior counterterrorism official with knowledge of operations against al Qaeda in Pakistan defended the vaccine program, arguing it was “limited” and “real.”
“They [the vaccinations] were conducted by genuine medical professionals,” said the official. “The idea that these were in any way ‘fake’ is simply mistaken. Many Pakistani children received vaccinations, and if the effort had not been interrupted by the arrest of the doctor, they would have been fully immunized.” The official added that “the plan was for everyone to get the full course of treatments.”