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Pakistan jails doctor who helped CIA find Osama bin Laden

Newly released documents seized in the 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden's compound show bin Laden had ordered al-Qaida to assassinate President Barack Obama or General David Petraeus. NBC's Jim Miklaszewski reports.

Updated at 10:55 a.m. ET: PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- A Pakistani doctor accused of helping the CIA find Osama bin Laden was convicted of high treason and sentenced to 33 years in prison on Wednesday. 

Geo News via Reuters TV

Shakil Afridi is seen in an undated image.

Shakil Afridi ran a vaccination program for the American intelligence agency to collect DNA and verify bin Laden's presence at the compound in the town of Abbottabad, where he was killed last May by U.S. commandos.

A U.S. official implicitly criticized the sentence. "Without commenting on specific individuals, anyone who helped the United States find bin Laden was working against al-Qaida and not against Pakistan," Pentagon spokesman George Little said. 

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has previously called for Afridi to be released, saying his work served Pakistani and American interests.

Afridi was also ordered to pay a fine of about $3,500, Nasir Khan, a government official in the Khyber tribal area, told The Associated Press. If he doesn't pay, he will spend another three and half years in prison, Khan said. 

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His imprisonment is likely to anger ally Washington at a sensitive time, with both sides engaged in difficult talks over re-opening NATO supply routes to U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan. 

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U.S. officials had hoped Pakistan, a recipient of billions of dollars in American aid, would release Afridi. He was detained after the unilateral operation which killed bin Laden and strained ties with Islamabad. 

Farooq Naeem / AFP - Getty Images

U.S. forces found and killed the al-Qaida leader in the affluent Pakistani town of Abbottabad, where he had been living in a large compound.

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In January, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in a television interview that Afridi and his team had been key in finding bin Laden, describing him as helpful and insisting the doctor had not committed treason or harmed Pakistan.

U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher introduced legislation in February calling for Afridi to be granted American citizenship and said it was "shameful and unforgivable that our supposed allies" charged him. 

Afridi was arrested soon after bin Laden was killed, and has not been publicly heard of since. Seventeen health workers who worked with him on the vaccination drive were fired in March, according to termination letters seen by Reuters, which described them as having acted "against the national interest." 

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After years of hunting him down, Osama bin Laden is finally dead.  Check out this cartoon slideshow.

On May 2, one year after bin Laden's death, some of them appeared at the site where bin Laden's run-down white cement and brick house stood before it was demolished by Pakistani authorities. 

"He (Afridi) was very nice to all the people in the team and did his job very diligently," Naseem Bibi, one of the health workers told Reuters, holding one of the notices. "Yes he was very interested in this house on that day (of the vaccination drive) but I am not sure why." 

NBC News' Mushtaq Yusufzai, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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