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US reveals bin Laden was unarmed

/ 05:40 AM May 04, 2011

WASHINGTON—Osama bin Laden was unarmed when killed by US commandos in Pakistan, while Islamabad had to be kept in the dark about the raid in case the Al-Qaeda leader was tipped off, US officials said Tuesday.

In some of the frankest comments from President Barack Obama’s administration since bin Laden was shot dead Sunday night, CIA director Leon Panetta laid bare the chasm of mistrust between the “war-on-terror” allies.

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“It was decided that any effort to work with the Pakistanis could jeopardize the mission,” he told Time magazine in an interview. “They might alert the targets,” he added in a blunt and damning remark.

US officials debated whether to release a “gruesome” photograph to prove bin Laden was dead, while wrestling with the apparent contradiction that the terror mastermind “resisted,” but was also unarmed.

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“In the room with bin Laden, a women – bin Laden’s wife – rushed the US assaulter and was shot in the leg but not killed,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said. “Bin Laden was then shot and killed. He was not armed.”

Pressed on reports the elite Navy SEAL team had actually been on a “kill mission,” meaning it was under orders not to take bin Laden alive, Carney said there had been a “volatile firefight” and insisted: “We were prepared to capture him if that was possible.”

The fact that bin Laden turned up in leafy Abbottabad, home to the Pakistani equivalent of the West Point and Sandhurst military academies, just two hours’ drive north of Islamabad, has been greeted with incredulity.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari rejected as “baseless” charges that his country extends safe haven to extremists, but outraged US lawmakers are calling for billions of dollars in aid to be cut back or pulled entirely.

The Obama administration last year said it would seek another $2 billion for Pakistan’s military, on top of a five-year, $7.5 billion civilian package approved in 2009 aimed at weakening the allure of Islamic extremists.

US analysts were scouring documents and computer files seized from bin Laden’s hideout for evidence after top counter-terrorism official John Brennan said it was “inconceivable” he had not had some kind of support network.

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.

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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.

Pakistani intelligence officials said the nation’s Inter-Services
Intelligence (ISI) agency had no idea bin Laden was holed up in Abbottabad, despite raiding the compound in 2003 while it was still under construction.

Zardari acknowledged that the US commandos carried out the raid without Pakistani collaboration — but stressed Islamabad had initially helped to identify the Al-Qaeda courier who led them to bin Laden.

Overall, he wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece, “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.”

US officials say DNA tests have proven conclusively that the man shot dead above the eye in Sunday’s raid was indeed the Al-Qaeda leader who boasted about the deaths of nearly 3,000 people in the September 11 attacks of 2001.

But they are also mulling whether to release a photo as proof to scotch any conspiracy theories, while weighing the affect the publication of such an image could have in parts of the Muslim world.

“It is fair to say it is a gruesome photograph… it could be inflammatory,” Carney said. “We are reviewing the situation.”

In Sunday’s operation, which lasted less than 40 minutes, Navy SEALs, arriving in two helicopters stormed bin Laden’s hideout, a compound that stood out from other properties for its towering perimeter walls and heavy security.

In addition to the bin Laden family, two other families resided in the compound: one on the first floor of the bin Laden building and another in a second building.

“On the first floor of bin Laden’s building, two Al-Qaeda couriers were killed along with a woman who was killed in cross-fire,” Carney said.

“Bin Laden and his family were found on the second and third floor of the building. There was concern that bin Laden would oppose the capture operation and indeed he resisted.”

After the firefight, the “non-combatants were moved to a safe location as the damaged helicopter was detonated,” Carney said. “The team departed the scene via helicopter to the USS Carl Vinson in the North Arabian Sea.”

After months of top-secret planning, the operation came down to a simple command delivered by Obama on Friday — “it’s a go.”

“We got him,” Obama told his top lieutenants, who had gathered in the White House Situation Room to watch the dramatic operation late Sunday.

The high tension gripping the room had finally been broken by confirmation relayed by Panetta that the status of bin Laden — codenamed “Geronimo” — was now “EKIA”: Enemy Killed in Action.

The fifth person killed in the raid was believed to be one of bin Laden’s sons.

The United States says bin Laden received Muslim rites before his body was “eased” into the Arabian Sea on Monday so no one could turn his grave into a shrine. Muslim leaders have condemned the sea burial.

With Pakistan’s main Taliban faction vowing vengeance, the United States said Tuesday it was closing its consulates in the cities of Lahore and Peshawar to the public until further notice.

The US State Department warned of the potential for reprisals against Americans, while Panetta said terrorist groups “almost certainly” would try to avenge bin Laden.

Hundreds of curious Pakistanis descended on Tuesday on the bullet-riddled villa that hid bin Laden from the world, some taking pictures and home videos of the battered compound where he was killed.

Gathering outside the house to get a look at the now notorious high-walled villa, dozens of youths staged a demo mocking the United States and shouting “Osama is alive!”

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TAGS: Acts of terror, alQueda, Foreign affairs, intelligence
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