The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) organised a fake vaccination programme in Pakistan’s Abbottabad town, where it believed Osama bin Laden was hiding, in an elaborate attempt to obtain DNA from the fugitive al Qaida leader's family, a British newspaper’s investigation has found.
As part of extensive preparations for the US raid that killed bin Laden on May 2, CIA agents recruited a senior Pakistani doctor to organise the vaccine drive in Abbottabad, the Guardian reports.
They even started the "project" in a poorer part of Abbottabad to make the vaccine drive look more authentic, according to Pakistani and US officials and local residents.
The doctor, Shakil Afridi, has since been arrested by the Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) for co-operating with American intelligence agents, the report said.
The doctor''s arrest has exacerbated already strained relations between the United States and Pakistan. The US is understood to be concerned for the doctor''s safety, and is thought to have intervened on his behalf, the report added.
The vaccination plan was conceived after US intelligence officers tracked an al-Qaida courier, known as Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti, to what turned out to be bin Laden''s Abbottabad compound last summer, the report said.
The agency monitored the compound by satellite and surveillance from a local CIA safe house in Abbottabad, but wanted confirmation that bin Laden was there before mounting a risky operation inside another country, it added.
DNA from any of the Bin Laden children in the compound could be compared with a sample from his sister, who died in Boston in 2010, to provide evidence that the family was present, the report said.
So agents approached Afridi, the health official in charge of Khyber, part of the tribal area that runs along the Afghan border.
It is not known exactly how the doctor hoped to get DNA from the vaccinations, although nurses could have been trained to withdraw some blood in the needle after administrating the drug, it added.
A nurse known as Bakhto, whose full name is Mukhtar Bibi, managed to gain entry to the Bin Laden compound to administer the vaccines, the report said.
According to several sources, the doctor, who waited outside, told her to take in a handbag that was fitted with an electronic device. It is not clear what the device was, or whether she left it behind. It is also not known whether the CIA managed to obtain any Bin Laden DNA, although one source suggested the operation did not succeed, it added.
Mukhtar Bibi, who was unaware of the real purpose of the vaccination campaign, would not comment on the programme.