PAKISTAN declared the killing of Osama bin Laden a “major setback” to global terrorism but it will inevitably come under pressure to explain how the al-Qaida leader was holed up in a mansion near a military facility in Abbottabad, a town less than two hours’ drive from the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.
“Osama bin Laden’s death illustrates the resolve of the international community, including Pakistan, to fight and eliminate terrorism,” the government said in a statement. “It constitutes a major setback to terrorist organisations around the world.”
However, it was not clear whether the Pakistan military was involved in the operation and there was no official comment from the government for several hours after the news of bin Laden’s death, raising the possibility that Islamabad had been taken by surprise.
That bin Laden was not hiding in mountains along the border but in relative comfort near a military academy will bolster those who have long argued that Pakistan has been playing a duplicitous hand.
Just 10 days ago Pakistan’s army chief addressed army cadets at that very academy, saying the country’s military had broken the back of militants linked to al-Qaida and the Taliban.
Washington has in the past accused Pakistan of maintaining ties to militants targeting US troops in neighbouring Afghanistan. Relations have soured in recent months over US drone attacks and CIA activities in the country.
Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency, the ISI, has long been suspected of links to al-Qaida’s precursor, the Haqqani network — cultivated during the 1980s when Jalaluddin Haqqani was a feared battlefield commander against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
Imtiaz Gul, a Pakistani security analyst, said: “If the ISI had known, then somebody within the ISI must have leaked this information.
“Pakistan will have to do a lot of damage control... This is a serious blow to the credibility of Pakistan.”
An agency reporter in the town yesterday said bin Laden’s single-storey residence stood fourth in a row of about a dozen houses, a satellite perched on the roof above a walled compound. A helicopter covered by a sheet sat in a nearby field.
A military helicopter crashed near Abbottabad on Sunday night, killing one and wounding two, according to local media.
Witnesses reported gunshots and heavy firing before one of two low-flying helicopters crashed near the academy.
Sohaib Athar, whose profile says he is an IT consultant taking a break from the rat race by hiding in the mountains, sent out a stream of live updates on Twitter about the movement of helicopters and blasts without realising it was a raid on the world’s most hunted man.
He reported his window rattling and a bang. “I hope it’s not the start of something nasty,” he tweeted.
Soon after there were blasts. There were two helicopters, one of them had gone down, Athar wrote.
When he learnt it was bin Laden killed in Abbottabad, he tweeted: “ISI has confirmed it.”
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