Panetta believes someone in authority in Pakistan knew where bin Laden was hiding before the Abbottabad raid [EPA]

Leon Panetta, the US defence secretary, has acknowledged publicly for the first time that a Pakistani doctor provided vital information to the US in advance of the successful Navy SEAL assault on al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's compound last May.

He has also expressed concern about Pakistan's treatment of the doctor, Shikal Afridi, who has been arrested and charged with treason by the Pakistani government.

In an interview with CBS's 60 Minutes programme due to be aired on Sunday, Panetta acknowledged that Afridi, a Pakistani doctor in Abbottabad, the town where bin Laden was found, had in fact been working for US intelligence, collecting DNA to verify bin Laden's presence.

US Navy SEALs killed bin Laden, the mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks in the US, on May 2 in a raid on a compound in Abbottabad, north of the Pakistani capital Islamabad, and later buried him at sea.

"I'm very concerned about what the Pakistanis did with this individual ... who in fact helped provide intelligence that was very helpful with regards to this operation," Panetta said, according to excerpts of the interview.

"He was not in any way treasonous toward Pakistan. Pakistan and the United States have a common cause here against terrorism ... and for them to take this kind of action against somebody who was helping to go after terrorism, I just think is a real mistake on their part."

Pakistan's knowledge

Panetta said he still believed someone in authority in Pakistan knew where bin Laden was hiding before US forces went in to find him.

Intelligence reports found that Pakistani military helicopters had passed over the compound in Abbottabad, according to the CBS interview.

"I personally have always felt that somebody must have had some sense of what was happening at this compound," Panetta said. "Don't forget, this compound had 18-foot walls ... It was the largest compound in the area.

"So you would have thought that somebody would have asked the question, 'What the hell's going on there?'"

Panetta said this concern contributed to the US administration's decision not to give Pakistan advance warning of the impending raid.

"It concerned us that if we in fact brought [Pakistan] into it, that, they might ... give bin Laden a heads up," he said.

Panetta acknowledged he did not have "hard evidence" that Pakistan knew of bin Laden's whereabouts.

Source: Agencies