09/06/2012, 00.00
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Islamabad expels six foreign Save the Children aid workers

For the Pakistani government, they helped US spies find the hiding place of al Qaeda's founder, thus facilitating his killing. For the NGO, which denies any involvement with the US operation, the decision remains unmotivated. A doctor sentenced to 33 years in prison is thought to have had links with the charity.

Islamabad (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Pakistan is expelling Save the Children's foreign staff, official sources announced today. The decision is apparently linked to Pakistani suspicion the aid agency helped US spies hunt down Osama bin Laden.

The Interior Ministry told the group that its six foreign employees had to be out of Pakistan within two weeks. It gave no reason for the decision, but it is likely connected to the US action that led to the al Qaeda leader's death.

After the operation, Pakistan arrested a Pakistani doctor on suspicion that he worked for the CIA. A court eventually sentenced him to 33 years in prison.

Ghulam Qadri, Save the Children's director for programme planning and communications, said he was not given any reason for the expulsion.

The Interior Ministry also did issue any statement on the matter.

The humanitarian group has worked in the Asian country for 30 years and has employed over the years at least 2,000 people.

A spokesperson in London told the BBC that the charity was seeking "clarification" from the Pakistani authorities in relation to the expulsions. He also said it was not yet clear if the agency could send replacement expatriate staff.

An apparent link also exists between what happened to Save the Children's foreign staff and Dr Shakil Afridi's arrest and conviction for spying on behalf of the United States.

The latter was convicted for running a fake vaccination programme under CIA cover to collect information that could lead to the capture of al Qaeda's leader and founder. Some media reports suggest the doctor was connected to Save the Children staff.

The NGO said however that Dr Afridi was never paid for any work by the charity and had never run any of its vaccination programmes, although he did attend a seminar shortly before his arrest.

Osama bin Laden died during an operation by US Special Forces on 2 May in Abbottabad (50 km north of the capital).

The prince of terror who masterminded the 11 September 2001 attacks against the United States was found living in a fortified villa, not far from a Pakistani army training centre.

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