OSAMA bin Laden was still actively in control of al-Qaida at the time he was killed in his compound in Pakistan, US intelligence officials have said.
The claim was made as five videos seized at the secret hideout where he was shot dead were released by the Pentagon. In his last ever recording, the leader reportedly threatened that there would be no US security without Palestine security.
Pakistani security officials reacted with scepticism to the US assertion that bin Laden was actively engaged in directing his far-flung network from his compound in Abbottabad where he was killed on May 2.
“It sounds ridiculous,” said a senior intelligence official. “It doesn’t sound like he was running a terror network.”
Pakistan, heavily dependent on billions of dollars in US aid, is under intense pressure to explain how the al-Qaida leader could have spent so many years undetected just a few hours’ drive from its intelligence headquarters in the capital.
Suspicion has deepened that Pakistan’s pervasive Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency, which has a long history of contacts with militant groups, may have had ties with bin Laden — or that at least some of its agents did. The agency has been described as a state within a state.
Pakistan has dismissed such suggestions and says it has paid the highest price in human life and money supporting the US war on militancy launched after bin Laden’s followers staged the September 11, 2001, attacks on America.
The Obama administration has seen no evidence Pakistan’s government knew bin Laden was living in that country before his killing, the US national security adviser said yesterday.
Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani is scheduled to “take the nation into confidence” in parliament today, his first statement to the people more than a week after the incident embarrassed the country.
Pakistani officials said the fact that there was no internet connection or even phone line into the compound where the world’s most-wanted man was hiding raised doubts about his centrality to al-Qaida.
Analysts have long maintained that, years before bin Laden’s death, al-Qaida had fragmented into a decentralised group that operated tactically without him.
“It’s bullshit,” said a senior Pakistani security official, when quizzed on a US intelligence official’s assertion that bin Laden had been “active in operational planning and in driving tactical decisions” of the Islamist militant group from his secret home in the town of Abbottabad.
On Saturday, the White House released five video clips of bin Laden taken from the compound, most of them showing the al-Qaida leader, his beard dyed black, evidently rehearsing the videotaped speeches he sometimes distributed to his followers.
None of the videos was released with sound. A US intelligence official said it had been removed because the United States did not want to transmit bin Laden’s propaganda. But he said they contained the usual criticism of the United States as well as capitalism.
While several video segments showed him rehearsing, one showed an ageing and grey-bearded bin Laden in a scruffy room, wrapped in a blanket and wearing a ski cap while watching videotapes of himself.
“This compound in Abbottabad was an active command and control centre for al-Qaida’s top leader and it’s clear ... that he was not just a strategic thinker for the group,” the US intelligence official said in Washington.
“He was active in operational planning and in driving tactical decisions.”
The duelling narratives of bin Laden reflect both Washington’s and Islamabad’s interests in peddling their own versions of bin Laden’s hidden life behind the walls of his compound.
Stressing bin Laden’s weakness makes his discovery in a garrison town just a few minutes’ walk from Pakistan’s military academy less embarrassing for Pakistan, but playing up his importance makes the US operation all the more victorious.
The competing claims came as senior Pakistani officials said bin Laden may have lived in Pakistan for more than seven years before he was shot dead, a disclosure that could further strain relations between the two countries.
One of bin Laden’s widows, Amal Ahmed Abdulfattah, told investigators bin Laden and his family had spent five years in Abbottabad.
Abdulfattah, along with two other wives and several children, were among 15 or 16 people detained by Pakistani authorities at the compound after the raid.
She said that before Abbottabad, bin Laden had stayed in a nearby village for nearly two-and-a-half years.
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