Pakistan on alert for bin Laden anniversary

Fears of reprisal attacks on first anniversary of kiling of al-Qaeda leader put security forces on high alert.

    Pakistan is in a state of high alert over fears that armed groups will launch revenge attacks on the first anniversary of Osama bin Laden's killing by US Navy SEALs.

    Pakistani officials said security agencies had been ordered to be "extra vigilant" on Wednesday.

    Last year, the Taliban carried out a string of revenge attacks that included a suicide bombing on a police training centre that killed nearly 100 people.

    "These agencies are in a state of high alert and have been directed to be very careful since this is going to be an important day," one security official told the AFP news agency on condition of anonymity.

    Wednesday's anniversary of one of the most humiliating episodes fro Pakistan caps a devastating year for the country.

    Its reputation has been dragged deeper through the mud and its relationship with the US is as bad as ever, as questions about Islamabad's intelligence failures or complicity with al-Qaeda remain unanswered.

    A year after the al-Qaeda leader was found living with his three wives on the doorstep of Pakistan's equivalent of West Point, the country is still accused of sheltering a string of the US's most-wanted terrorism suspects.

    Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's successor, is suspected to be in Pakistan, as is Afghan Taliban leader, Mullah Omar.

    Sirajuddin Haqqani, the de facto leader of the Haqqani network blamed for last month's assault on Western targets in Kabul - the largest co-ordinated attack by armed groups in 10 years of war - is based in the tribal belt on the Afghan border, as is Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud.

    Last month, Washington offered $10m for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Hafiz Saeed, the Pakistani accused of masterminding the 2008 Mumbai attacks, who lives openly in Pakistan.

    Moving on

    Western embassies in Islamabad have issued warnings, advising citizens to avoid public places for fear of attack.

    The US embassy has restricted staff from going to restaurants and markets until May 5.

    Pakistani authorities have tried to ignore the anniversary and erase all trace of bin Laden, who lived in the country from December 2001 until his death last May, according to testimony from his widow Amal Abdulfattah.

    She was deported to Saudi Arabia on Friday along with bin Laden's other two widows and 10 children.

    There was no extra police or military presence at the site of the house in Abbottabad where bin Laden spent six years, which was bulldozed in the dead of night in February.

    A local police official said he had been given no special instructions and locals were keen to move on.

    "The Osama issue should be dead now. No anniversary should be observed as any event on this day every year will trigger new controversies," Omar Zada, a 35-year-old mason, said.

    Perceived insult

    In neighbouring Afghanistan, the Taliban attacked a heavily-fortified guesthouse complex used by Westerners, killing at least seven people on Wednesday just hours after Barack Obama, the US president, marked the bin Laden anniversary by flying into Afghanistan to make an address from Bagram air base.

    But US-Pakistani ties remain deeply troubled. Islamabad closed NATO supply lines into Afghanistan five months ago over the killing of 24 soldiers in US air strikes, and it remains unclear whether Pakistan will attend this month's Chicago summit on Afghanistan.

    To US disappointment, a commission tasked with getting to the bottom of the bin Laden debacle is yet to publish its findings and has even questioned whether he was definitely killed in the raid.

    Despite the lack of public support for bin Laden, the public narrative has been consumed by fury over Washington's violation of sovereignty, and perceived insult in not keeping Islamabad in the loop, rather than soul-searching about the country's relationship with al-Qaeda and its offshoots.

    Yet there were no mass protests last year and few rallies are expected on Wednesday.

    "People can see what miseries this ideology has actually brought for Pakistan," Imtiaz Gul, a political analyst, said.

    "That is why it is not surprising there was no outpouring for bin Laden last year, when he was killed, nor will people express this on his anniversary."

    SOURCE: Agencies


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