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Osama bin Laden killed near Pakistan's West Point. Was he really hidden?

The world’s most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden, was not hiding in a cave along the lawless border with Afghanistan, as many believed. Instead, US forces killed him 75 miles north of Pakistan's capital, Islamabad.

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Adding to the confusion was the Pakistani government’s delay in issuing an official statement, following a meeting of top civilian and military leaders including President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, and Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

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Instead, several hours after governments around the world had offered their reactions, Pakistani authorities opted to issue an official statement, which appeared to distance themselves from involvement.

Calling it “a major setback to terrorist organizations around the world,” the statement emphasized that the military operation was “conducted by the US forces in accordance with declared US policy that Osama bin Ladin will be eliminated in a direct action by the US forces, wherever found in the world.”

The statement’s emphasis on US action – not Pakistani – could be an attempt to guard against potential blowback from terrorist organizations bent on revenge, according to Rifaat Hussain, a security analyst at the Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad.

It also would help direct the anger of ordinary Pakistanis toward America for violating the country’s sovereignty – and not toward their own government for allowing such an operation.

Prime Minister Gilani, appearing on TV, said he did not know about the extent of Pakistani involvement. "I don't know the details, I don't know minute details, but in short we have intelligence cooperation."

By early evening, the Pakistani Taliban vowed to avenge bin Laden's death. "If he has been martyred, we will avenge his death and launch attacks
against American and Pakistani governments and their security forces," spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told news agencies by telephone, adding that "If he has become a martyr, it is a great victory for us because martyrdom is the aim of all of us."

Reaction within Pakistan

Reaction has thus far been fairly muted among Pakistan’s religious parties and militant groups, the segments of the population that most revered the Al Qaeda leader. That could change if those groups are able to portray the military operation as a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.

An opinion poll conducted by the International Republican Institute in 2009, found that only 9 percent of Pakistanis expressed that they "liked" bin Laden, while some 80 percent expressed dislike of him.

Liaqat Baloch, a senior leader with Pakistan’s Jamaat-Islami, Pakistan’s largest Islamist party, downplayed the killing.

“The Pakistani people don’t know much about Osama bin Laden and this won’t feel very important. Yes, he was anti-American, so the people will take some interest,” says Mr. Baloch. “If it took America 10 years and the deaths of so many to take their revenge then that is a shame upon them.”

“There will be some cranks and extremists, but by and large everyone is happy that this character is gone,” says Mr. Hilaly, the former diplomat. “One only hopes that the [US] will now be thinking along the lines 'mission accomplished' [in the region]…. as long as they are here, they destabilize Pakistan.”

* Ben Arnoldy contributed from New Delhi.

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