Obama suspects bin Laden ‘support network’

US president says nature of assistance for al-Qaeda leader is something Pakistan and US have to investigate.

Pakistani leaders are under pressure from both an anti-American public and the US over bin Laden’s killing [Reuters]

Osama bin Laden probably had “some sort” of a support network inside Pakistan, Barack Obama, the US president, has said.

He also said it will take investigations by Pakistan and the US to find out the nature of that support.

“We think there had to be some sort of support network for bin Laden inside of Pakistan,” Obama said in an interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes programme, broadcast on Sunday.

“But we don’t know who or what that support network was. We don’t know whether there might have been some people inside of government, people outside of government, and that’s something that we have to investigate and, more importantly, the Pakistani government has to investigate.”

The interview comes a week after the al-Qaeda leader was killed by US commandos in Abbottabad, an army town a short drive from Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad.

Pakistan’s government has “indicated they have a profound interest in finding out what kinds of support networks bin Laden might have had”, Obama said.

“But these are questions that we’re not going to be able to answer three or four days after the event. It’s going to take some time for us to be able to exploit the intelligence that we were able to gather on site.”

No evidence yet

In other television appearances by administration officials on Sunday, the White House took some heat off Pakistan’s government, saying it had no evidence that Pakistan knew bin Laden was living in the country.

“I can tell you directly that I’ve not seen evidence that would tell us that the political, the military, or the
intelligence leadership had foreknowledge of bin Laden,” Tom Donilon, US national security adviser, told NBC’s Meet the Press.

He said Pakistani officials also needed to provide US authorities with intelligence they had gathered from the fortified compound where bin Laden was killed, and access to his three wives who are in Pakistani custody.

But he said that despite difficulties in the US-Pakistani relationship, “we’ve also had to work very closely with Pakistan in our counterterror efforts. More terrorists and extremists have been captured or killed in
Pakistan than anyplace else”.

Minding the message

Yusuf Raza Gilani, Pakistan’s prime minister, is scheduled to “take the nation into confidence” in parliament on Monday, his first statement to the people more than a week after the attack on bin Laden’s compound embarrassed the country and raised fears of a new rift between Islamabad and Washington.

Suspicion has deepened that Pakistan’s pervasive Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency, which has a long history of contacts with armed Muslim groups, may have had ties with the al-Qaeda leader – or that some of its agents did.

Afghan official points the finger at Pakistan’s military-security agencies following bin Laden’s killing near Islamabad

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.

Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, told ABC’s This Week that his government would act on the
results of the investigation.

“And heads will roll, once the investigation has been completed,” he said.

“Now, if those heads are rolled on account of incompetence, we will share that information with you. And if, God forbid, somebody’s complicity is discovered, there will be zero tolerance for that, as well.”

Haqqani said Pakistan had “many jihadi has-beens from the 1980s who are still alive and well and kicking, and some of them could have been helping them, but they are not in the state or government of Pakistan today”.

For their part, Pakistani security officials reacted with scepticism to a US assertion that bin Laden was actively engaged in directing his far-flung network from his compound in Abbottabad where he was killed.

The US has said that, based on a trove of documents the size of a small college library and computer equipment seized in the raid, bin Laden’s hideout was an “active command and control centre” for al-Qaeda where he was involved in plotting future attacks on the US.

Pakistani officials said the fact that there was no internet connection or even telephone line into the compound where the world’s most-wanted man was hiding raised doubts about his centrality to al-Qaeda.

“It sounds ridiculous,” a senior Pakistani intelligence official said. “It doesn’t sound like he was running a
terror network.”

Conflicting narratives

Analysts have long maintained that, years before bin Laden’s death, al-Qaeda had fragmented into a decentralised group that operated tactically without him.

The conflicting narratives of bin Laden reflect Washington’s and Islamabad’s interests in peddling their own versions of bin Laden’s hidden life behind the walls of his compound.

Nasim Ashraf, a former minister in the Pakistani government, told Al Jazeera that Pakistan stands to lose much more than the US in both the short and medium term.

“There needs to be an investigation that must be done by Pakistan, as well as an investigation by the US,” Ashraf said.

“No matter how great the temptation on both sides, the relationship between the countries needs to be strengthened.”

Ashraf said that the US must not do anything else that will lower the image of the military or government, “as this plays into the hands of extremists in Pakistan”.

Stressing bin Laden’s weakness makes his discovery just a few minutes’ walk from a 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.

“Everyone in the village knows when a cow has a calf, so how could bin Laden and his family hide here?” Mohammad Naseer, a 65-year-old retired soldier, said as he took a break from working his fields.

“I can say for sure he wasn’t here.”

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies