CIA's 'fake vaccine drive' to get Bin Laden family DNA
- 12 July 2011
- From the section South Asia
The CIA ran a fake vaccine programme in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad to try to get a DNA sample from the family of Osama Bin Laden, media reports say.
The Guardian newspaper says CIA agents recruited a Pakistani doctor there to organise the vaccination drive. The paper says he has since been arrested.
The CIA has refused to comment on the report, which comes as tensions run high between Islamabad and Washington.
The al-Qaeda chief was killed in a US commando raid on his compound on 2 May.
Relations between Pakistan and the US have plummeted since the raid with many in the US questioning how the fugitive could live undetected for years in a Pakistani cantonment town so close to the capital.
As part of extensive preparations for the raid that killed Bin Laden, CIA agents recruited senior Pakistani doctor Shakil Afridi to organise the vaccine drive in Abbottabad where it believed he was hiding, said the Guardian report.
The newspaper says "it is not known whether the CIA managed to obtain any Bin Laden DNA, although one source suggested the operation did not succeed".
The BBC's Urdu service also spoke to an unnamed source in the Pakistan military, who said that a health official who administered polio drops to children within Bin Laden's compound was arrested shortly after the 2 May raid.
BBC Urdu said the military source quoted the health official as saying that a number of children were called in from the inner quarters of the compound to be given the drops.
The official also told investigators that the children spoke fluent Pashto, as did the woman who brought them from inside, although he said he could not see the woman's face as she was veiled.
The source said the official is still in custody, but he is not suspected of having collaborated with the American secret agents.
The BBC has also learned that the doctor, named by The Guardian as Shakil Afridi, employed two health workers to assist in the scheme and one of them did manage to enter the Bin Laden compound - that person remains untraceable and it is unclear if they managed to get DNA samples.
There has been no official comment on the report from the Pakistani authorities.
The "project" was started in a poorer part of town to make it look more authentic, the paper said.
According to the report, the CIA launched the campaign after it tracked down a Bin Laden courier to the compound in the town of Abbottabad.
Before launching an operation on the compound, US officials wanted to match DNA samples from people living in the compound with a sample they had from his sister, the report said.
Separately, the New York Times also cited an unnamed US official who said that a vaccination programme was set up as a ruse in the town, because the CIA was struggling to learn whether Bin Laden was truly hiding in the compound.
At the time of the raid on Bin Laden's compound, a shopkeeper close to the fortress told the BBC's M Ilyas Khan that a vaccination team had visited the area just a week or two earlier.
He had said that they were only vaccinating Afghan nationals living in the area and were also obtaining their blood samples for what they described as tests to identify certain diseases.
Three of Bin Laden's wives and several children were detained after the raid on the compound near Islamabad.
The family are said to have provided vital information about the al-Qaeda leader's activities and are among the main witnesses of the covert US operation that killed him.
Bin Laden orchestrated the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington in which nearly 3,000 people died.
He evaded US forces and their allies for almost a decade, despite a $25m (£15m) bounty on his head.