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Obama presses Pakistan on bin Laden

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by Michael Mathes
Washington DC (AFP) May 09, 2011
US President Barack Obama pressed Pakistan on Sunday to probe how Osama bin Laden managed to live for years under the noses of its military, saying he must have had some kind of support network.

The White House also called on Islamabad to help counter growing mistrust by granting US investigators access to three of bin Laden's widows who are in Pakistani custody and could have vital information on Al-Qaeda.

"We think that there had to be some sort of support network for bin Laden inside of Pakistan," Obama, speaking on the matter for the first time, told the CBS show "60 Minutes," according to a interview excerpt released 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."

But one week after an elite team of Navy SEALs killed the Al-Qaeda leader and seized a treasure trove of documents and computer files, senior US officials said they had no proof that Islamabad knew about his hideout.

The fact that bin Laden was "hiding in plain sight," as the White House described it, in a garrison city less than a mile from a top military academy and only 35 miles (56 kilometers) from Islamabad, has deeply strained ties.

Outraged US lawmakers have voiced suspicion that elements of Pakistan's military intelligence services must have known his whereabouts, and are demanding that billions of dollars in American aid be suspended.

US officials say a valuable horde of data, including video, digital and audio files, printed items, computer equipment, recording devices and handwritten documents, was seized in the raid.

In the final audio tape bin Laden recorded before being killed, he warned there would be no security for the United States until Palestinians are allowed to live in security, an Islamist website reported Sunday.

"America will not be able to dream of security until we live in security in Palestine," he said. "It is unfair that you live in peace while our brothers in Gaza live in insecurity.

"Accordingly, and with the will of God, our attacks will continue against you as long as your support for Israel continues," he warned in a message posted on, a conduit for Al-Qaeda communications.

Al-Qaeda has acknowledged bin Laden's death - and vowed to avenge it - but no successor has been announced and debate is now swirling over who might take the reins of the terror network.

Bin Laden's death: the morality of celebrating

White House National Security Advisor Tom Donilon said the United States was focusing its attention on bin Laden's longstanding deputy, the Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri.

"Zawahiri will be the next number one terrorist that we're looking for in the world," he said.

Reportedly last seen in October 2001 in eastern Afghanistan, close to the lawless tribal regions along the Pakistan border, Zawahiri has released several videos from hiding, calling for war on the West.

Donilon told NBC's "Meet The Press" program that the CIA was describing the intelligence haul from the bin Laden raid as about the size of a "small college library."

"I've not seen evidence that would tell us that the political, the military, or the intelligence leadership had foreknowledge of bin Laden," he added.

Pakistan's military has hit back at the allegations, demanding that the United States cut its troop presence in the country to a "minimum" and threatening to review cooperation if a similar unilateral raid is conducted.

US officials have stopped short of directly accusing the Pakistanis, but one recent senior political figure who was freer to express her opinions warned against such "bluster."

"The idea that he could be in a suburb, essentially, of Islamabad is quite remarkable," Condoleezza Rice, who was secretary of state under president George W. Bush from 2005 to 2009, told ABC's "This Week."

"And so Pakistan has some very hard questions to answer, and this isn't a time for bluster from Pakistan."

Pakistan's ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani acknowledged "there was a crack that things fell through" and said "Pakistan will investigate," but he insisted officials were unaware that bin Laden was hiding so close.

"If any member of the Pakistani government, the Pakistani military, or the Pakistani intelligence service knew where Osama bin Laden was, we would have taken action," he told ABC.

Focus: Pakistan cities cover for Al-Qaeda

Donilon said a "good starting point" for Islamabad would be to provide direct access to bin Laden's detained widows.

"They have in their custody all the non-combatants from the compound, including three wives of Osama bin Laden," he told ABC.

Washington had yet to be given access, Donilon said, but "we haven't been told we can't either at this point. We'll certainly press on this very hard."

Pakistani security officials say bin Laden's Yemeni wife, who was shot in the leg during the raid, is undergoing medical treatment and interrogation in Pakistan along with 15 other relatives, many of them children.

"She said in Arabic that bin Laden and his family were living in this compound for the last five years and he never left the compound," one official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

As the diplomatic fallout from the killing of Osama bin Laden intensified, the White House, meanwhile, rowed back on plans announced last year for Obama to visit Pakistan in 2011.

"There is not a visit on his schedule at this point to go to Pakistan," Donilon said.

Focus: CIA takes a victory lap after Bin Laden raid

For a decade, Islamabad has been America's wary Afghan war ally, despite widespread public opposition and militant bomb attacks across the nuclear-armed country that have killed several thousand people.

But Pakistan has never been fully trusted by either Kabul or Washington, which accuse its powerful military of fostering the Afghan Taliban it spawned during the 1980s resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

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