Extensive surveillance of Osama bin Laden’s hideout from a nearby CIA safe house in Abbottabad led to his killing in a Navy SEAL operation, US officials said, a revelation likely to further embarrass Pakistan’s spy agency and strain ties.
The US officials, quoted by the Washington Post, said the safe house was the base for intelligence gathering that began after bin Laden’s compound was discovered last August, and which was so exhaustive the CIA asked Congress to reallocate tens of millions of dollars to fund it.
“The CIA’s job was to find and fix,” the Post quoted one US official as saying, using special forces terminology for locating a target. “The intelligence work was as complete as it was going to be, and it was the military’s turn to finish the target.”
US officials told the New York Times that intelligence gathered from computer files and documents seized at his compound showed bin Laden had for years orchestrated al Qaeda attacks from the Pakistani town, and may have been planning a strike on the US rail sector this year, the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
One US official said there was no indication from the intelligence that further plans were drawn up for the railway plot or that steps were taken to carry it out. The US Department of Homeland Security said it had no information of an imminent threat.
The fact bin Laden was found in a garrison town — his compound was not far from a major military academy — has embarrassed Pakistan and the covert raid by US commandos has angered its military.
On Thursday, the Pakistan army threatened to halt counter-terrorism cooperation with the United States if it conducted another, similar unilateral strike.
A major Islamist party in Pakistan, Jamaat-e-Islami, called for mass protests on Friday against what it called a violation of sovereignty by the US raid. It also urged the government to end support for US battles against militants.
A senior Pakistani security official also charged that US troops had killed the unarmed al Qaeda leader in “cold blood”.
The criticism from Pakistan is likely to fray a relationship that Washington deems vital to defeating al Qaeda and winning its war in neighboring Afghanistan.
A US acknowledgment that bin Laden was unarmed when shot in the head — as well as the sea burial of his body, a rare practice in Islam — have also drawn criticism in the Arab world and Europe, where some have warned of a backlash.
Few Americans appear to have any qualms about how bin Laden was killed, and on Thursday, scores of people cheered President Barack Obama during a visit to New York’s Ground Zero, site of the twin towers al Qaeda levelled on Sept. 11, 2001, to comfort a city still scarred by attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.
Obama said the killing of bin Laden “sent a message around the world, but also sent a message here back home, that when we say we will never forget, we mean what we say.” Reuters