- Associated Press - Thursday, September 6, 2012

ISLAMABAD — The Pakistani government has ordered foreign staff members of Save the Children to leave the country, a spokesman for the international aid group said Thursday.

The group recently has come under Pakistani government scrutiny because of reports that it helped facilitate meetings between the U.S. and a doctor who helped hunt down Osama bin Laden, a charge the group has vehemently denied. The expulsion order comes amid heightened suspicion of foreigners in Pakistan in the aftermath of the killing of the al Qaeda leader by a team of U.S. Navy SEALs.

Ghulam Qadri said the Ministry of Interior informed the organization earlier this week that its six foreign staffers would have to leave the country within two weeks, although they have since been able to extend the deadline. He did not specify the new date.

Save the Children has about 2,000 Pakistani employees across the country, who will continue to work despite the expulsion.

Mr. Qadri said the ministry gave no reason for the expulsion.

“We are working with the government to find out the details for this action,” he said.

The ministry could not be reached for comment.

After the May 2011 American raid that killed bin Laden, Pakistan arrested Shakil Afridi, the doctor who allegedly helped the United States track down the al Qaeda leader, who was hiding in a Pakistani garrison town. Dr. Afridi was said to have run a fake vaccination program for the CIA to collect DNA to try to verify bin Laden’s presence at the compound in Abbottabad where U.S. commandos found and killed him.

Dr. Afridi later was convicted and sentenced to 33 years for high treason. The United States has been pushing for his release and has praised his actions, but in Pakistan he is viewed with disdain by many, including security officials, for helping a foreign intelligence agency operate within its borders.

In the wake of Dr. Afridi’s arrest, Pakistani officials have become increasingly suspicious of groups with international ties. Many aid groups have reported difficulty getting visas for their members.

An attorney for the doctor, Samiullah Khan, said Pakistani investigators concluded that Dr. Afridi met with some foreigners in connection with the vaccination drive, including someone from Save the Children in Islamabad. Mr. Khan said his client denies the charges and that he is innocent.

Mr. Qadri said the government has no evidence suggesting that the charity worked with Dr. Afridi and that the aid group already has given the government all the information it has asked for as part of its investigation.

Save the Children is an international aid group with operations in more than 50 countries around the world that works to improve the lives of children. The group has been working in Pakistan since 1979, according to its website.

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