US expects to grill bin Laden women ‘soon’

A Pakistani boy plays cricket.
© AFP Asif Hassan


WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States said it expects Pakistan will “soon” let it question three widows of Osama bin Laden apprehended during the commando raid that killed him, despite Islamabad’s fury over the operation.

But Pakistan said that it had received no formal request for access to the women, as further details emerged of the backdrop to the dramatic May 2 assault in which the Al-Qaeda kingpin was shot dead by US forces.

Bin Laden’s Yemeni wife, who was shot in the leg, has told Pakistani investigators that they lived in the compound where bin Laden was killed in the garrison town of Abbottabad — near Islamabad — for five years.

With the pivotal US-Pakistan relationship under severe strain, the White House had called on Islamabad to help counter growing mistrust by granting American investigators access to the women.

“The United States expects to be granted access soon,” a US official said, without providing more details. The three wives, along with several children, have been in Pakistani custody since the raid.

Pakistan’s foreign ministry said it had “not received a formal request from the United States” to question them, while a Pakistani military official told AFP that “so far no decision in this regard has been taken”.

“The family’s under treatment, they are under protective custody,” he said.

Ministry spokeswoman Tehmina Janjua added that the women’s countries of origin — Yemen and Saudi Arabia — had not asked that they be extradited.

The New York Times meanwhile reported that the elite US Navy SEALs who gunned down bin Laden had permission to kill Pakistani forces if necessary.

The newspaper said President Barack Obama raised the prospect of a clash 10 days before the operation, resulting in two extra helicopters being deployed to protect the assault team.

Citing a senior Obama administration official, it said the SEALs would have been allowed to fight back if engaged by hostile police officers or soldiers.

“Their instructions were to avoid any confrontation if at all possible. But if they had to return fire to get out, they were authorised to do it,” the official said.

On Monday, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani dismissed as “absurd” accusations that complicity or incompetence had allowed bin Laden to hide out for years in the sizeable compound two hours’ drive from Islamabad.

He vowed a full investigation into the security and intelligence lapses — to be overseen by a Pakistani general — but also hit out at Washington’s decision to strike on its own deep inside Pakistan.

Pakistan is a key ally in the US-led war on terrorism centered in neighboring Afghanistan. But tense relations have been stretched even further by the discovery of bin Laden living less than a mile from a military academy.

Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported Tuesday that Pakistan granted US forces permission almost a decade ago to conduct a unilateral raid if Washington knew where bin Laden was hiding.

Under the deal between then-military leader General Pervez Musharraf and president George W. Bush, both sides agreed that in public at least, Pakistan would vociferously protest the incursion after it happened.

Islamabad has done just that, saying its sovereignty was violated.

A spokesman for Musharraf’s political party — which he runs from self-exile in London — denied the claims.

“It is a ridiculous claim. This is all nonsense,” said Mohammad Ali Saif, secretary general of Musharraf’s All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) party.

“Mr Pervez Musharraf has already clearly stated that he did not have any understanding or agreement on this issue.

“Musharraf has always said if there was any understanding, it was that our own forces will take action or carry out operations on Pakistani soil and that no foreign forces will be allowed to take action inside Pakistan,” he said.

Washington emphatically refused Monday to say sorry for the raid which killed the world’s most-wanted man, blamed for masterminding the 9/11 attacks on the United States in which almost 3,000 people were killed.

“We obviously take the statements and concerns of the Pakistani government seriously, but we also do not apologise for the action that we took, that this president took,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

There is considerable US suspicion that there must have been some kind of collusion to enable the Al-Qaeda leader to live undetected in Abbottabad, and outraged lawmakers are demanding that billions in aid to Pakistan be suspended.

But Gilani told parliament he had “full confidence in the high command of the Pakistan Armed Forces and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).”

 The highly influential military establishment is perceived to be Pakistan’s strongest institution but the debacle has left it red-faced.

It has hit back at criticism, demanding that the United States cut its troop presence in the country to a “minimum” and threatening to review cooperation if another unilateral raid is conducted.

Gilani also insisted Pakistan reserves the right to “retaliate with full force,” although he stopped short of spelling what, if anything, would be done if the US staged another high-profile anti-terror raid.

A US official, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, said the CIA had no plans to withdraw its top spy from Islamabad after his identity was allegedly divulged in a Pakistani newspaper.

© AFP — Published at Activist Post with license

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