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Pakistan Denies Sheltering Osama Bin Laden Amid Growing Suspicion

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PAKISTAN PRESIDENT
AP File

WASHINGTON/ABBOTTABAD, Pakistan (Reuters) – Pakistan's president on Tuesday denied suggestions that his government may have sheltered Osama bin Laden but admitted that his security forces were left out of a U.S. operation to kill the al Qaeda chief.

The revelation that bin Laden had holed up in a luxury compound in the military garrison town of Abbottabad, possibly for five to six years, prompted many U.S. lawmakers to demand a review of the billions of dollars in aid Washington gives to nuclear-armed Pakistan.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, issuing his first formal response to questions about how the world's most-wanted militant was able to live for so long in comfort near Islamabad, did little to dispel suspicions.

"Some in the U.S. press have suggested that Pakistan lacked vitality in its pursuit of terrorism, or worse yet that we were disingenuous and actually protected the terrorists we claimed to be pursuing," Zardari wrote in an opinion piece in the Washington Post. "Such baseless speculation may make exciting cable news, but it doesn't reflect fact."

It was the first substantive public comment by any Pakistani leader on the airborne raid by U.S. special forces on bin Laden's compound on Monday that brought to an end a long manhunt for the al Qaeda chief who had become the face of Islamic militancy.

Pakistan has faced enormous international scrutiny since bin Laden was killed, with questions over whether its military and intelligence agencies were too incompetent to catch him, knew all along where he was hiding and even whether they had been complicit.

Reflecting U.S.-Pakistani relations strained by years of mistrust, Islamabad was kept in the dark about the raid until after all U.S. aircraft were out of Pakistani airspace.

"He was not anywhere we had anticipated he would be, but now he is gone," Zardari wrote, without offering further defense against accusations his security services should have known where bin Laden was hiding.

"Although the events of Sunday were not a joint operation, a decade of cooperation and partnership between the United States and Pakistan led up to the elimination of Osama bin Laden as a continuing threat to the civilized world."

RELEASE OF PHOTOS CONSIDERED

Facing pressure to produce absolute proof of bin Laden's demise, White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan said the United States was considering whether to release photographs and video taken during the raid as proof that bin Laden had died in the raid.

"We want to make sure that we're able to do it in a thoughtful manner. We also want to anticipate what the reaction might be on the part of al Qaeda or others to the release of certain information so that we can take the appropriate steps beforehand," Brennan told CNN.

The Afghan Taliban on Tuesday challenged the truth of bin Laden's death, saying Washington had not provided "acceptable evidence to back up their claim" that he had been killed. In a statement from Kabul they also said aides to bin Laden had not confirmed or denied his death.

Another U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said photographs of bin Laden's burial at sea may be released later on Tuesday but no decision has been made. Washington was also weighing whether to release a photo of his body.

Taking out bin Laden, who became the epitome of evil for many Americans for masterminding the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, is likely to give President Barack Obama at least a short-term boost in approval ratings that have slid amid U.S. economic woes.

But he may also face more pressure to speed the planned withdrawal this July of some U.S. forces from the unpopular war in Afghanistan.

RE-COMMITMENT TO FIGHTING MILITANTS

U.S., Pakistani and Afghan officials held a previously scheduled meeting in Islamabad on Tuesday and re-committed to the fight against militancy in Afghanistan and Pakistan but deflected questions about the bin Laden operation.

"Who did what is beside the point ... This issue of Osama bin Laden is history," Pakistani Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir told a joint news conference.

But irate U.S. lawmakers earlier asked how it was possible for bin Laden to live in a populated area near a military training academy without anyone in authority knowing about it.

They said it was time to review aid to Pakistan. Congress has approved $20 billion for Pakistan in direct aid and military reimbursements partly to help Islamabad fight militancy since bin Laden masterminded the September 11, 2001 attacks.

"Our government is in fiscal distress. To make contributions to a country that isn't going to be fully supportive is a problem for many," said Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein.

The White House acknowledged there was good reason for U.S. lawmakers, already doubtful of Pakistan's cooperation against al Qaeda, to demand to know whether bin Laden had been "hiding in plain sight" and to raise questions about U.S. aid.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Tuesday that Britain would continue working with Pakistan to combat militancy, but insisted "we need those questions answered" about whatever support bin Laden received there.

"The right choice is to engage with Pakistan and to deal with the extremists rather than just throw up our hands in despair and walk away, which would be a disastrous choice," he told BBC radio.

There were no protests and there was no extra security in Islamabad on Tuesday, just a sense of embarrassment or indifference that bin Laden had managed to lie low for so long in Abbottabad.

"The failure of Pakistan to detect the presence of the world's most-wanted man here is shocking," the daily News said in an editorial, reflecting the general tone in the media.

Pakistan, where anti-U.S. sentiment runs high among its public, has a long history of nurturing Islamist militants in the interests of its strategic objectives, primarily facing up to what it sees as its biggest threat -- India. Pakistan's fear of India has been at the root of its support for the Afghan Taliban and separatist militants in Indian Kashmir.

WARNINGS OF REVENGE

In the first sign militants were attempting to strike back, Afghan forces killed and wounded 25 foreign fighters after they crossed the border from Pakistan, a government official said.

Jamaluddin Badr, governor of Afghanistan's northeastern Nuristan province, said the fighters killed overnight included Arabs, Chechens and Pakistanis.

Taliban, al Qaeda and other Islamist militants have long operated out of safe havens and training camps in Pakistan's largely lawless northwest Pashtun tribal regions. Bin Laden was sheltered by the Afghan Taliban before the September 11 attacks.

The United States earlier issued security warnings to Americans worldwide. CIA Director Leon Panetta said al Qaeda would "almost certainly" try to avenge bin Laden's death.

Bin Laden's death had initially boosted the dollar and shares in the belief his killing reduced global security risks.

But shares dipped on Tuesday and the dollar struggled to pull away from a three-year low as markets refocused on a fragile global economy and corporate earnings prospects. Still, the threat of retaliatory attacks by al Qaeda could support oil prices, analysts said.

Bin Laden was buried at sea after he was shot in the head and chest by U.S. special forces who were dropped inside his sprawling compound by Blackhawk helicopters. Analysts warned that objections from some Muslim clerics to the sea burial could stoke anti-American sentiment.

(Reporting by Reuters bureau worldwide; Writing by Dean Yates and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by John Chalmers and Jackie Frank)

Copyright 2011 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.

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Details are continuing to emerge regarding Osama bin Laden's top-secret Abbottabad compound, but the discovery of some high-strength marijuana plants just yards from the home has set the blogosphere aflame with speculation.

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ABC News reports:

A new bulletin issued tonight by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security and obtained by ABC News describes the terror organization's chilling desire to derail a train.

"As of February 2010, al-Qa'ida was allegedly contemplating conducting an operation against trains at an unspecified location in the United States on the 10th anniversary of September 11, 2001," the document reads, using an alternate spelling for bin Laden's terror group. "As one option, al-Qa'ida was looking into trying to tip a train by tampering with the rails so that the train would fall off the track at either a valley or a bridge."

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HuffPost Blogger Tom Engelhardt writes:

Back in the 1960s, Senator George Aiken of Vermont offered two American presidents a plan for dealing with the Vietnam War: declare victory and go home. Roundly ignored at the time, it’s a plan worth considering again today for a war in Afghanistan and Pakistan now in its tenth year.

As everybody not blind, deaf, and dumb knows by now, Osama bin Laden has been eliminated. Literally. By Navy Seals. Or as one of a crowd of revelers who appeared in front of the White House Sunday night put it on an impromptu sign riffing on The Wizard of Oz: “Ding, Dong, Bin Laden Is Dead.”

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@ BreakingNews : Info from bin Laden raid shows al-Qaida considered attacking US trains, mass transit hubs - NBC News

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The Los Angeles Times reports on an unusual post found on the website of the Poynter Institute, which details how the president recreated the first 30 seconds of his televised address on Sunday:

The article cites Jason Reed, a White House photographer for Reuters, recounting in a separate post how this was done.

“As President Obama continued his nine-minute address in front of just one main network camera, the photographers were held outside the room by staff and asked to remain completely silent,” Reed wrote. “Once Obama was off the air, we were escorted in front of that teleprompter and the president then re-enacted the walk-out and first 30 seconds of the statement for us.”

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NBC News reports that President Barack Obama plans to privately thank members involved in the operation against Osama bin Laden on Friday.

The official said Obama met at the White House on Wednesday with Vice Adm. William McRaven, the overall commander of the bin Laden mission, NBC News reported.

"The president met with Admiral McRaven at the White House yesterday to thank him personally in the Oval Office and will have the opportunity to privately thank some of the special operators involved in the operation tomorrow at Fort Campbell," the official said without elaborating.

The official said Obama will meet "special operators" involved in the mission but was not specific about whether members of the SEAL team would be among them.

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Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said in an interview for ABC's "Subway Series" with Jonathan Karl that he believes senior Pakistani officials knew where Osama Bin Laden was located.

"At high levels, high levels being the intelligence service ... they knew it." Levin went on to say he has "no doubt" they know the location of other top terrorists.

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The team that was deployed to take down bin Laden included one dog.

Most likely a Belgian Malinois (though officials say it could also have been a German Shepherd), there was one non-human member of the SEAL team that raided Osama bin Laden's compound, according to The New York Times. The heroic pooch was strapped to a Navy SEAL as they were lowered from a hovering helicopter.

Though the dog began making headlines Wednesday, Pet Adviser actually picked the nugget of information out of an NY Times article on Monday.

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In this video clip from President Barack Obama's interview with 60 Minutes, he says about Osama bin Laden's burial, "Frankly we took more care on this than obviously bin Laden took when he killed 3,000 people. He didn't have much regard for how they were treated and desecrated."

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ABC News offers different, or perhaps additional, information of the interrogation of one of Osama bin Laden's wives:

Pakistani intelligence agents today are interrogating three women -- all wives of Osama bin Laden -- who were captured during the U.S.-led raid on Sunday.

The wives, including the youngest -- 29-year-old Yemeni Amal Ahmed Abdul Fatah -- were all living with bin Laden inside the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

According to one of the women, bin Laden confined himself to two rooms in the house, including the bedroom where he was killed. He never left those rooms, she claims, for the five years he was hiding there.

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CNN reports that, according to a Pakistani military spokesman, Osama bin Laden's wife has told interrogators she didn't leave the compound for five years:

The wife, who was wounded in the raid, said she lived in the compound in Abbottabad with eight of bin Laden's children and five others from another family, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas told CNN. All of them have been in Pakistani custody since the pre-dawn U.S. commando raid that killed bin Laden and will be returned to their country of origin, Abbas said.

Abbas said he wasn't sure from her questioning how long bin Laden had lived there himself or whether he had ventured outside.

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@ CBSNews : AP: Obama to meet SEAL team members from bin Laden operation at Fort Campbell on Friday. DEVELOPING

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Global Post reports that Pakistani officials have told the news organization that the Pakistani army knew, and playing a role in, the operation that led to Osama bin Laden's death:

The statements run counter to the public position taken by officials in both Pakistan and the United States who have so far downplayed the role Pakistan’s military and intelligence community had in the attack, saying that it was limited to a small amount of information sharing.

One senior military official, who asked not to be named because he is not permitted to speak to the press, said that Pakistani army troops were in fact providing backup support when the United States began its operations inside the compound where bin Laden had been staying, including sealing off the neighborhood where the compound was located.

This report strongly opposes the TIME piece with CIA Chief Leon Panetta's statement, “It was decided that any effort to work with the Pakistanis could jeopardize the mission."

More from the Global Post article here.

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HuffPost's Sam Stein reports:

WASHINGTON -- White House Press Secretary Jay Carney reiterated on Thursday that the killing of Osama bin Laden would not alter the president’s policy with respect to the war in Afghanistan.

Speaking to reporters en route to the president’s Ground Zero visit, Carney said that strategy regarding the Afghan war “remains unchanged.”

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James Warren writes in The Atlantic:

There's a rich coincidence to that intimate photo of President Obama and his national security team monitoring the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound -- and a lesson about a conceit of political pundits.

Not only does it recall the 1986 photo of President Reagan and top aides as they viewed a replay of the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion -- and, as with Team Obama, one doesn't know what they're watching at that moment --but it's taken by the same person, my former colleague Pete Souza.

Read the full article here.

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In this image provided by The Associated Press, "President Barack Obama pauses after laying a wreath at the National Sept. 11 Memorial at Ground Zero in New York, Thursday, May 5, 2011."

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

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Tony Karon writes for TIME that while Pakistan may be an unreliable ally to the U.S., their relationship will not be broken:

...U.S. intelligence has long suspected that at least some among its Pakistani counterparts were maintaining ties with Qaeda-linked figures.

The U.S. has known this for years, but that hasn't forced a break in U.S.-Pakistan relations. That's unlikely to change, now, even if it turns out that elements in the Pakistani security hierarchy had been aware of Bin Laden's presence all along.

To understand why, you only have to look as far as Damascus. That's right, Damascus. Syria's President Bashar al-Assad is Iran's only ally among Arab heads of state; he is a key patron of Hizballah and Hamas, and is still formally at war with Israel. His regime is accused by the IAEA of trying to build a secret nuclear program (before the facility was bombed by Israel) and he has sought to suppress an unprecedented protest movement against his authoritarian rule by sending in tanks and ordering his security forces to fire repeatedly on unarmed demonstrators, killing hundreds. Yet, you're unlikely to find a serious foreign policy hand in the corridors of power in Washington -- or, for that matter, even in Jerusalem -- who is willing to advocate for a policy of overthrowing Assad.

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View The Huffington Post's live updates on President Barack Obama's Ground Zero visit here.

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President Barack Obama is currently meeting and hugging the family members of 9/11 victims. Earlier, he participated in a silent prayer.

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In this image provided by The Associated Press, "President Barack Obama meets with firefighters and first responders at Engine 54, Ladder 4, Battalion 9 before visiting the National Sept. 11 Memorial at Ground Zero in New York, Thursday, May 5, 2011."

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

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An ABC Live Video shows President Barack Obama thank firefighters in New York, as he says, "You will always have a president who has got your back."

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ABC's RIck Klein tweets comments from Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR):

@ rickklein : Sen. Pryor: "I'm not convinced that we're getting what we need" in help from Pakistan in war on terror. "divided loyalties." #TopLine

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Reuters offers a report on the concern that al Qaeda and its allies may have been able to reach Pakistan's nuclear arsenal:

During his time at a fortified compound, did the world's most wanted man manage to sneak supporters into Pakistan's nuclear sites to gain the ultimate weapon for global holy war?

That's a question that could haunt some policy makers in Western capitals for many years.

The answer among experts is a resounding no, but bin Laden's stay here is fueling concern about Pakistan's overall stability, vital for securing its nuclear weapons.

Anthony Cordesman, a national security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington, said the fact that bin Laden had managed to evade capture for so long in Pakistan should not raise additional red flags about the security of the country's nuclear arsenal.

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The Hill's Mike O'Brien tweets:

@ MPOTheHill : Boehner on bin Laden photos: "I support the decision of the president that they should not be disclosed."

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@ BreakingNews : Obama visits New York City firehouse that lost 15 men on 9/11, says 'When we say we never forget, we mean what we say' - NBC

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The Associated Press provides a video of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offering remarks on Pakistan and the photo from the Situation Room. Clinton says on Pakistan, "it is not always an easy relationship, you know that, but on the other hand it is a productive one for both of our countries."

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@ RumsfeldOffice : Heading to the Pentagon w/ Joyce this afternoon to honor our colleagues lost on 9/11.

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Reuters reports that although Osama bin Laden is dead, "Pakistan remains a haven for militants with both ambition and means to strike overseas":

Worse, there are signs that groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba (Army of the Pure), nurtured by Pakistan's spy agency to advance strategic interests in India and Afghanistan, are no longer entirely under the agency's control.

Even if the Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI), under intense pressure following the discovery of bin Laden in a Pakistani garrison town, sought to roll up the groups, it may not be able to do so without provoking a major backlash.

In Lashkar's case, according to experts, it is not even certain if it is under the control of its own leadership, with many within pushing for greater global jihad. Several others are spinning off into independent operatives which makes it harder for security agencies to track down.

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Tony Dokoupil writes for The Daily Beast about America's newfound interest in the Navy SEALs:

"Navy SEAL training,” followed closely by “Navy SEAL workout,” were the only bin Laden-related search terms in the Top 10 on Wednesday, narrowly beating “Jesse James” (who opened up about his ex, Sandra Bullock) and “Flowers Online” (note: Mother’s Day is Sunday). Surely, this says something unflattering about the national id, or at least American Web-surfing habits. But since inquiring minds want to know…

SEAL training is the most ferocious workout in the free world, according to Navy memoirs and other published reports, a bone-wrenching, spine-rattling affair that takes about two years, and overwhelms most men who attempt it. Those who pass go on to restock the 2,500-man rotation of active-duty SEALs. The best are eventually tapped for the elite Seal Team Six—the squad that got bin Laden. And as perhaps goes without saying, the average Googler wouldn't survive the pre-training requirements: 50 sit-ups and 42 pushups (in under two minutes each), a mile-and-a-half run (at sub seven-minute-mile pace), a 500-yard swim (in less than 13 minutes). There are no women allowed.

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Politico reports that the dramatic photo with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton holding a hand over her mouth may not have in fact been a dramatic pose, but rather allergies:

"Those were 38 of the most intense minutes," Clinton said, the AP reports. "I have no idea what any of us were looking at at that particular millisecond when the picture was taken."

Clinton also didn’t give much thought to her hand over her mouth. “I am somewhat sheepishly concerned that it was my preventing one of my early spring allergic coughs,” she said.

She added, “So, it may have no great meaning whatsoever.”

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