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Pakistan says Osama family members under arrest, and defends inaction on al-Qaeda

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Pakistan authorities said on Tuesday that they have arrested members of Osama Bin Laden’s family. They were taken into custody at Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, which US Special Forces raided on Sunday, killing the Al-Qaeda leader.

Sources told Al Arabiya that some of those arrested had been wounded. The US Navy SEALs who killed Bin Laden spirited away his body, and gave the terrorist a sea burial in the North Arabian Sea on Sunday, observing Muslim last rites.

Earlier on Tuesday, President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan defended his country against accusations it did not do enough to track down Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden and acknowledged that his security forces were left out of the US operation to kill him.

“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,” Mr. Zardari said in an op-ed article for The Washington Post.

Underneath a headline reading “Pakistan did its part,” he said: “We in Pakistan take some satisfaction that our early assistance in identifying an Al-Qaeda courier ultimately led to this day.”

But the Pakistani president provided no detailed explanation on how Mr. bin Laden managed to live for years undetected in Abbottabad, a hillside retreat popular with retired Pakistani generals just an hour’s drive from Islamabad, the country’s capital.

“He was not anywhere we had anticipated he would be, but now he is gone,” Mr. Zardari wrote.

It was the first public comment by any Pakistani civilian or military leader on the raid by a secret US assault team on Mr. Bin Laden’s compound on Sunday night.

Meanwhile, the US Embassy in Islamabad and various US consulates in Pakistan have been closed to the public. Presumably this was a safety measure, especially in light of the fact that Osama Bin Laden was popular among many Pakistanis. In Quetta, his sympathizers organized rallies in Bin laden’s honor on Tuesday.

Earlier Pakistan’s envoy to the United States, Husain Haqqani, promised a “full inquiry” into any intelligence failures, while angry US lawmakers demanding to know how a man blamed for killing thousands of Americans lived unperturbed in a country that receives billions of dollars of US aid, according to Agence-France Presse.

Irate US lawmakers wondered how it was possible for Bin Laden to live in a populated area near a military training academy without anyone of authority knowing about it or sanctioning his presence.

They said it was time to review the billions in aid the United States provides Pakistan.

“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, Democrat of California, according to Reuters.

The White House acknowledged there was good reason for US lawmakers, already dubious about Pakistan’s cooperation against Al-Qaeda, to demand to know whether Mr. Bin Laden had been “hiding in plain sight” and to raise questions about US aid to Islamabad.

For years, Pakistan had said it did not know Bin Laden’s whereabouts, vowing that if Washington had actionable intelligence, its military and security agencies would act.

The body of the world’s most powerful symbol of Islamist militancy was buried at sea after US Special Forces who were dropped shot him in the head and chest in a firefight inside his sprawling compound by Blackhawk helicopters.

Officials said DNA tests had proven conclusively that the man US Navy SEALs killed Sunday was indeed their reviled foe blamed for the September 11 attacks in 2001, according to AFP.

Bin Laden, 54, was given a sea burial after Muslim funeral rites on a US aircraft carrier, the Carl Vinson. His shrouded body was placed in a weighted bag and eased into the north Arabian Sea, the US military said.

Washington wanted to prevent any dry land gravesite becoming a shrine for a man whose supporters now view as a martyr.

Analysts warned that objections from some Muslim clerics to the sea burial could stoke anti-American sentiment. The clerics questioned whether the United States followed proper Islamic tradition, saying Muslims should not be buried at sea unless they died during a voyage.

The United States also issued security warnings to Americans worldwide. CIA Director Leon Panetta said Al-Qaeda would “almost certainly” try to avenge Bin Laden’s death.

Pakistan’s main Taliban faction threatened to attack Pakistan and the US, calling them “the enemies of Islam.”

“If he (Bin Laden) has become a martyr, it is a great victory for us because martyrdom is the aim of all of us,” spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told AFP by phone.

Vows to avenge Al-Qaeda leader’s death appeared quickly in Islamist militant forums, a key means by which Al-Qaeda leaders have passed on information. “God’s revenge on you, you Roman dog, God’s revenge on you crusaders,” one forum member wrote, according to Reuters.

The Obama administration was weighing whether to release a photo of Bin Laden’s body as proof that he had been killed. There is also a video of the sea burial but it was not clear if it would be released, a US official said.

Under Bin Laden, Al-Qaeda militants struck targets from Indonesia to the European capitals of Madrid and London.

But it was the 9/11 attacks, in which Al-Qaeda militants used hijacked planes to strike at economic and military symbols of American might and killed nearly 3,000 people that helped Bin Laden achieve global infamy.

Many analysts see Bin Laden’s death as largely symbolic since he was no longer believed to have been issuing operational orders to the many autonomous Al-Qaeda affiliates.

Late on Tuesday, the Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued the following statement in Islamabad:

The Government of Pakistan recognizes that the death of Osama bin Laden is an important milestone in fight against terrorism and that the Government of Pakistan and its state institutions have been making serious efforts to bring him to justice.

However, the Government of Pakistan categorically denies the media reports suggesting that its leadership, civil as well as military, had any prior knowledge of the US operation against Osama bin Laden carried out in the early hours of 2nd May 2011.

Abbottabad and the surrounding areas have been under sharp focus of intelligence agencies since 2003 resulting in highly technical operation by ISI, which led to the arrest of high value Al Qaeda target in 2004. As far as the target compound is concerned, ISI had been sharing information with CIA and other friendly intelligence agencies since 2009.

The intelligence flow indicating some foreigners in the surroundings of Abbottabad continued till mid April 2011. It is important to highlight that taking advantage of much superior technological assets, CIA exploited the intelligence leads given by us to identify and reach Osama bin Laden, a fact also acknowledged by the US President and Secretary of State, in their statements.

It is also important to mention that CIA and some other friendly intelligence agencies have benefitted a great deal from the intelligence provided by ISI. ISI’s own achievements against Al Qaeda and in War on Terror are more than any other intelligence agency in the world.

Reports about US helicopters taking off from Ghazi Airbase are absolutely false and incorrect. Neither any base or facility inside Pakistan was used by the US Forces, nor Pakistan Army provided any operational or logistic assistance to these operations conducted by the US Forces.

US helicopters entered Pakistani airspace making use of blind spots in the radar coverage due to hilly terrain. US helicopters’ undetected flight into Pakistan was also facilitated by the mountainous terrain, efficacious use of latest technology and “map of the earth” flying techniques. It may not be realistic to draw an analogy between this undefended civilian area and some military / security installations which have elaborate local defense arrangements.

On receipt of information regarding the incident, PAF scrambled its jets within minutes.

This has been corroborated by the White House Advisor Mr. John Brennan who while replying to a question said, “We didn’t contact the Pakistanis until after all of our people, and all of our aircraft were out of Pakistani airspace. At the time, the Pakistanis were reacting to an incident that they knew was taking place in Abbottabad.

“Therefore, they were scrambling some of their assets. Clearly, we were concerned that if the Pakistanis decided to scramble jets or whatever else, they didn’t know who were on those jets. They had no idea about who might have been on there, whether it be US or somebody else. So, we were watching and making sure that our people and our aircraft were able to get out of Pakistani airspace. And thankfully, there was no engagement with Pakistani forces. This operation was designed to minimize the prospects, the chances of engagement with Pakistani forces. It was done very well, and thankfully no Pakistani forces were engaged and there were no other individuals who were killed aside from those on the compound.”

There has been a lot of discussion about the nature of the targeted compound, particularly its high walls and its vicinity to the areas housing Pakistan Army elements. It needs to be appreciated that many houses occupied by the affectees of operations in FATA / KPK, have high boundary walls, in line with their culture of privacy and security. Houses with such layout and structural details are not a rarity.

Questions have also been asked about the whereabouts of the family members of Osama bin Laden. They are all in safe hands and being looked after in accordance with law. Some of them needing medical care are under treatment in the best possible facilities. As per policy, they will be handed over to their countries of origin.

Notwithstanding the above, the Government of Pakistan expresses its deep concerns and reservations on the manner in which the Government of the United States carried out this operation without prior information or authorization from the Government of Pakistan.

This event of unauthorized unilateral action cannot be taken as a rule. The Government of Pakistan further affirms that such an event shall not serve as a future precedent for any state, including the US.

Such actions undermine cooperation and may also sometime constitute threat to international peace and security.

Pakistan, being mindful of its international obligations, has been extending full and proper cooperation on all counter terrorism efforts including exchange of information and intelligence. Pursuant to such cooperation, Pakistan had arrested several high profile terrorists.

The Government of Pakistan and its Armed Forces consider support of the people of Pakistan to be its mainstay and actual strength. Any actions contrary to their aspirations, therefore, run against the very basis on which the edifice of national defense and security is based. Pakistan Army and intelligence agencies have played a pivotal role in breaking the back of Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations in Pakistan as well as around the World.

Most of the successes achieved by the US and some other friendly countries have been the result of effective intelligence cooperation and extremely useful military support by Pakistan. The Government of Pakistan and its security forces have resolved to continue their fight against terrorism till people of Pakistan can live in peace and security.

(Dina Al-Shibeeb of Al Arabiya can be reached at: dina.ibrahim@mbc.net, and Abeer Tayel of Al Arabiya can be reached at: abeer.tayel@mbc.net)