x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Pakistan blames world's spy agencies for failure to spot Osama bin Laden

Prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani insists there was 'an intelligence failure of the whole world, not Pakistan alone' over time it took to identify where al Qa'eda chief was hiding .

ISLAMABAD // Pakistan's prime minister said spy agencies around the world shared the blame for his government's inability to detect that Osama bin Laden had taken up residence in a city near Islamabad.

"There was an intelligence failure of the whole world, not Pakistan alone," Yousaf Raza Gilani told reporters in Paris, where he was meeting with French business leaders.

His remarks came hours after the first official Pakistani response, in which Islamabad claimed partial credit for helping the US find bin Laden.

"It is important to highlight that, taking advantage of much superior technological assets, the 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," said Pakistan's ministry of foreign affairs, in a written statement issued on Tuesday.

It said Abbottabad and the surrounding areas had been "under sharp focus of intelligence agencies since 2003", and has resulted in the capture there in 2004 of Abu Faraj al Libbi, an important al Qa'eda figure, by Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.

Pakistan said the ISI had been sharing information about the Abbotabad compound with the CIA and other friendly intelligence agencies since 2009.

The intelligence flow, indicating "some foreigners" in the surroundings of Abbottabad, continued until mid-April 2011, it said.

Pakistan's government has been criticised, abroad and at home, since US special forces killed bin Laden on Monday.

Officials and analysts worldwide have questioned how Pakistani authorities could not have noticed bin Laden's presence over a six-year period. US officials said on Tuesday that bin Laden had lived in the compound where he was killed throughout that time.

Retired Pakistani army generals, speaking to news wires and on Pakistani television, have said it was impossible for bin Laden to live in such an affluent city without some Palistani authorities being aware that he was there.

Sources in the Afghan Taliban differed somewhat, telling a reporter of The National that the ailing bin Laden had enjoyed two protracted stays at the Abbotabad house since 2006, but had only arrived for the third and final visit late last week.

The government said the compound had not aroused suspicions because its structure was not "not a rarity" for Pashtun families, especially those displaced from religiously conservative areas targeted in Pakistani counterterrorism operations.

In Pakistan, the government also has been questioned by the media for failing to detect and respond to the incursion from Afghanistan of four US military helicopters.

The American choppers would have been over Pakistani air space for at least two hours, said Shahzad Chaudhry, a retired Pakistani air force general, in an appearance on the Dawn News cable network.

Unwitting neighbours of bin Laden, who saw the US helicopters as they launched their attack, told The National that Pakistani troops from the nearby garrison had arrived quickly at the scene.

The troops established a security perimeter, but maintained a distance.

The Pakistani soldiers would have had a clear view of the Americans during the 40-minute raid, particularly when a Black Hawk chopper landed hard and was later blown up by the departing US commandoes.

The Pakistani government said air force jets had been scrambled within minutes of "receipt of information" of the covert US operation.

It said the US helicopters had avoided detection by using blind spots in Pakistan air defence radar coverage.

"US helicopters' undetected flight into Pakistan was also facilitated by the mountainous terrain, efficacious use of latest technology, and 'nap of the earth' flying techniques," the government said.

There were growing indications yesterday that militants in Pakistan were planning attacks to avenge the killing of bin Laden.

Four missiles were fired at a paramilitary fort at Wana, the main town of South Waziristan, sparking a prolonged exchange of gunfire, ISI sources based there said.

They expressed concern at the attack, the first in two years, because the Wana area is home to militants who have refrained from fighting Pakistani forces since signing a peace accord in 2006.

The government administrator of South Waziristan summoned the area's consultative tribal council, or jirga, yesterday to ascertain who was responsible for the attacks, said an official at the Wana office.

However, tribal and religious elders did not respond to the invitation, the ISI sources said.

Meanwhile, Afghan Taliban sources based in Karachi said they had learnt of TTP plans to mount attacks against Pakistani military and intelligence personnel and installations in the city.

Nine people were killed last week in three roadside bombings in Karachi that targeted navy buses.

They said TTP commanders, who had escaped the 2009 military operation in South Waziristan, had taken refuge in Karachi.

The TTP was planning to use escalating but unrelated ethnic violence between Urdu-speaking Mohajir and Pashtun, Karachi's two major population groups, as cover for their attacks, the sources said.

* Ehsanullah Wazir reported from Dera Ismail Khan

With additional reporting by Amjad Hadayat contributing from Karachi and Agence France-Presse