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Americas

US questions ally Pakistan in wake of bin Laden operation

Video by Shona BHATTACHARYYA

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-05-02

US officials wondered Monday how Osama bin Laden had been living undetected in a Pakistani compound until he was killed in a US raid. A White House official said it was "inconceivable" that the al Qaeda leader had not had support in Pakistan.

AFP - The United States questioned Monday how Osama bin Laden had managed to hide out undetected in a Pakistani compound, after the Al-Qaeda leader was killed in an overnight raid by US special forces.
             
Counter-terrorism chief John Brennan said it was "inconceivable" bin Laden had not had some kind of support system as he managed to live "for an extended period of time" in a heavily-fortified compound barely two hours drive from Islamabad.
             
Laying bare Washington's mistrust of its "war on terror" ally, he revealed that the Pakistani government had only been notified of the raid after the elite team of Navy SEALs had left Pakistan's airspace.
             
"We are looking right now at how he was able to hold out there for so long and whether or not there was any type of support system within Pakistan that allowed him to stay there," Brennan told a White House briefing.
             
Bin Laden, after apparently trying to use one of his wives as a human shield, was shot dead in a night-time helicopter raid by US commandos, ending a decade-long manhunt for the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.
             

A day after announcing the success of the military operation in a dramatic televised address, President Barack Obama spoke for a second time on the killing, saying the "world is safer, it is a better place."
             
DNA tests confirmed the body was that of bin Laden, a senior US official said after the assault on the Al-Qaeda leader's compound in the garrison town of Abbottabad, north of Islamabad.
             
World leaders welcomed the news but warned that Al-Qaeda's willingness to wreak havoc was undimmed and that the possibility of reprisal attacks meant vigilance was more important than ever.
             
Pakistan's main Taliban faction threatened to attack Pakistan and the US, calling them "the enemies of Islam".
             
"If he has become a martyr, it is a great victory for us because martyrdom is the aim of all of us," spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told AFP by phone.
             
An Internet outlet for official Al-Qaeda messages accepted its leader's killing and eulogized him as a "knight" who sacrificed his soul and money to fight the United States, monitoring group SITE said.
             
Hundreds took to the streets in Pakistan's city of Quetta in the country's first rally to honour bin Laden, burning a US flag and chanting anti-American slogans.
             
Obama said he had directed US special forces to attack the compound after a tip-off that first emerged last August.
             
"A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability," the president said. "After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body."
             
Bin Laden was buried at sea having been administered Islamic religious rites, US officials said. "We wanted to avoid a situation where it would become a shrine," one said.
             
The body, which was wrapped in a white sheet and placed in a weighted bag, "was placed on a prepared flat-board... (and) eased into the sea," a separate senior defense official said.
             
Elite troops from the US Navy SEALs carried out the assault, which lasted less than 40 minutes, killing bin Laden with a bullet to the head, another US official told AFP.
             
Footage taken by the US network ABC inside the house showed blood on the floor in one room and broken computers in another, stripped of their hard drives.
             
Explosions, helicopters clattering overhead and gunfire tore locals from their sleep as they rushed to see what was going on, residents said.
             
Ejaz Mahmood, an Abbottabad tailor, said he heard a blast in the early hours and "saw a fireball coming down from the air".
             
One helicopter in the raid went down due to "mechanical failure" but was blown up by its crew, who left the compound along with the assault force on another chopper, a US official said.
             
Residents were stunned when they switched on their TV sets after daybreak to hear Obama announce that bin Laden had been killed in their home town, which was soon engulfed by a heavy Pakistani security presence.
             
"We heard ambulance sirens and security people shouting. We saw fire and flames coming out," according to another resident who was too frightened to give his name.
             
US officials said two brothers believed to be bin Laden's couriers and one of his adult sons were also killed in the raid, while a woman, believed to be a wife of the Al-Qaeda leader who was used as a human shield, also perished.
             
Officials said they were stunned when intelligence reports first revealed the elaborate security at the compound, with 12-18 foot (four-to-six metre) high walls topped with barbed wire.
             
Until now, bin Laden had always managed to evade US forces, despite a $25 million bounty, and was most often thought to be hiding on the Afghan-Pakistani border.
             
His presence in Abbottabad -- a leafy town that is home to an elite Pakistani military academy -- will heighten doubts about the Islamabad government's zeal for prosecuting the war on terror.
             
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said "cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound in which he was hiding," but Brennan's more detailed comments revealed the independence of the US operation.
             
Asked in an AFP interview about the extent of Pakistani cooperation, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said: "I don't know the details, I don't know minute details, but in short we have intelligence cooperation."
             
He described bin Laden's death as a "great victory".
             
But leaders in both Afghanistan and India said bin Laden's discovery so close to Islamabad vindicated their claims of double-dealing by their nuclear-armed neighbor.
             
George W. Bush, US president at the time of the 9/11 attacks when almost 3,000 people died, said bin Laden's death was a "victory for America".
             
"The fight against terror goes on, but tonight America has sent an unmistakable message: No matter how long it takes, justice will be done," he said.
             
In a spontaneous eruption of joy, thousands gathered outside the gates of the White House, cheering, waving US flags and shouting "USA, USA". Another large crowd gathered at Ground Zero in New York, singing "God Bless America".
             
Share prices rallied worldwide and the US dollar rose on currency markets.
             
UN leader Ban Ki-moon described the killing of bin Laden as a "watershed moment" in the global fight against terrorism.
             
But the US State Department warned of the potential for reprisals against Americans with CIA director Leon Panetta saying that terrorist groups "almost certainly" would try to avenge bin Laden.
             
Iran meanwhile said bin Laden's death had removed "any excuse" for the US and its allies to deploy forces in the Middle East under the pretext of fighting terrorism.
             
Born in Riyadh in 1957, bin Laden was the son of a construction tycoon whose riches enabled the future Al-Qaeda leader to fund Islamic fighters waging war against the Soviet occupiers of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
             
He went on to build a many-tentacled extremist group that earned global prominence by bombing US embassies in East Africa in 1998.
             
But both in 1998 and after 9/11, bin Laden was unrepentant about what he called his divinely ordained mission against the United States and Israel.
             
"Jihad will continue," he said not long after September 11, 2001. "Even if I am not around."

Date created : 2011-05-02

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