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Terrorism & Security

Seized bin Laden cellphone provides possible link to Pakistani spy agency

A cellphone used by Osama bin Laden's courier contained contacts for commanders in a Pakistani militant group that has long been mentored by Pakistan's spy agency.

By Staff writer / June 24, 2011

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A new report heightens suspicion that Osama bin Laden may have been protected on behalf of, or at least with the knowledge of, Pakistan's intelligence agency.

The cellphone of bin Laden's courier, seized in the US raid on his Abbottabad compound last month, contained contacts for commanders in a militant group with close ties to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), The New York Times reported today.

By tracing calls made with the courier's phone, American analysts deduced that commanders from the Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen militant group were in contact with Pakistani intelligence, US officials told the Times – though how they deduced that is unclear.

Harakat, which is particularly entrenched around Abbottabad, was set up with the ISI's blessing at least 20 years ago and has since been mentored by the spy agency. The implication is that if a group so close to the ISI was in touch with bin Laden's network, it is less likely that the spy agency could have been unaware of the terrorist leader's activities in Pakistan.

The US officials were quick to say, however, that there is no proof that the communication was about bin Laden, making it possible that the ISI was unaware of the terrorist leader's presence – although two former militant leaders interviewed by the Times say they are convinced the ISI was protecting bin Laden.

A Pakistani security official told CBS News that the links between the ISI and Harakat no longer existed. "This is outdated information about Harakat-ul-Mujahadeen. Since militant groups began attacking the state [of Pakistan] lots of previous ties have been broken off," he said.

The ISI has long kept ties with Pakistani militant groups for a variety of reasons, including access to intelligence on militants and the desire for more allies against arch-rival India.

"We know the Pakistanis have sponsored some of these groups for a long time," a Western diplomat in Islamabad told [CBS reporter] Bokhari. "Whether there were active contacts between the ISI and these militant groups while they (militant groups) were in touch with OBL needs to be carefully examined. Proving this triangular relationship is not easy."

US officials continue to express doubts that bin Laden could have lived for years in a Pakistani garrison city of nearly 1 million residents only a couple hours from Islamabad without Pakistani officials at least suspecting he was there. American suspicions of Pakistani complicity, together with the unilateral nature of its raid on bin Laden's compound, have dragged down US-Pakistan relations.

According to Bloomberg, 69 percent of Pakistanis see the US as more of an enemy than a partner, despite massive US aid to the country that extends beyond military and counterterrorism assistance.


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