Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 August 2020

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan criticised for saying Osama bin Laden was 'martyred'

Al Qaeda leader was killed by US forces during a raid on his hideout in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad in 2011

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said the United States 'martyred Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden during a televised speech on June 25, 2020. AP Photo
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said the United States 'martyred Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden during a televised speech on June 25, 2020. AP Photo

Pakistan's prime minister has stirred up controversy by saying former Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had been "martyred".

Imran Khan made the comment in parliament on Thursday as he was describing the history of Pakistan's troubled relations with the United States since American special forces killed bin Laden in 2011 in the northern city of Abbottabad.

"The Americans came to Abbottabad and killed Osama bin Laden. Martyred him," Mr Khan said.

Martyrs are greatly revered in Islam and the term is generally used for people who die or are killed while in the service of the religion, or in formidable circumstances.

The prime minister faced blowback from opposition figures and observers following the televised speech.

"Imran Khan has fiddled with history, declaring Osama bin Laden as a martyr today," former foreign minister Khawaja Asif told parliament.

"Muslims all over the world are struggling because of the discrimination they face due to recent terrorism & our PM makes it worse by calling obl a martyr of Islam!" Meena Gabeena, a Pakistani activist, wrote on Twitter.

The prime minister's office did not immediately issue a statement responding to the criticism, but science and technology minister Fawad Chaudhry described Mr Khan's remark as "a clear slip of the tongue".

Pakistan has officially denied knowing bin Laden was hiding in the country until he was shot dead in a nighttime raid on May 2, 2011.

The incident was a major national embarrassment and caused already tenuous ties between the US and Pakistan to fray further.

Asad Durrani, a former spymaster, said in 2015 that Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency likely knew where he was hiding and hoped to use him as a bargaining chip.

The 9/11 mastermind was tracked down after a 10-year manhunt to Abbottabad, a garrison town north of Islamabad where Pakistan's military academy is headquartered, sparking allegations authorities were colluding with the terror group.

Mr Khan has made repeated controversial statements over the years, including during a trip to the US in 2019 when he claimed the ISI provided Washington with a lead that helped them find and kill Bin Laden.

The cricketer-turned premier has long been criticised by opponents for overly sympathising with militants, with rivals once dubbing him "Taliban Khan".

Updated: June 26, 2020 05:19 PM

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