Washington: The US still believes that someone in authority in Pakistan knew where the world’s most wanted terrorist Osama bin Laden was hiding in the country, nine months after the raid that killed al-Qaeda chief.
Bolstering his hunch, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, who headed the Central Intelligence Agency at the time when US Navy SEALs killed bin Laden in Pakistan’s Abbottabad town, said there were intelligence reports of Pakistani military helicopters passing over the compound where the al-Qaeda chief was hiding.
“I personally have always felt that somebody must have had some sense of what – what was happening at this compound. Don’t forget this compound had 18 foot walls… It was the largest compound in the area. So you would have thought that somebody would have asked the question, ‘What the hell is going on there?'”, Panetta told CBS ’60 Minutes’ profile to be broadcast tomorrow.
Pakistan was not made aware of the US raid on the compound, Panetta said as he explained “We had seen some military helicopters actually going over this compound. And for that reason it concerned us that, if we, in fact brought (Pakistan) into it, that – they might… give bin Laden a heads up”.
Pressed whether he knows for sure that the government of Pakistan knew where bin Laden was, Panetta said: “I don’t have any hard evidence, so I cannot say it for a fact. There’s nothing that proves the case. But as I said my personal view is that somebody somewhere probably had that knowledge.”
In the interview, Panetta for the first time acknowledged publicly that a Pakistani doctor, Shakil Afridi, provided key information to the US in advance of the successful Navy SEALs assault on bin Laden’s compound last year.
Afridi was arrested and charged with treason by the Pakistani government.
“I’m very concerned about what the Pakistanis did with this individual…who in fact helped provide intelligence that was very helpful in the operation,” Panetta said.
“He was not in any way treasonous towards Pakistan… Pakistan and the US have a common cause here against terrorism… and for them to take this kind of action against somebody who was helping to go after terrorism, I think is a real mistake on their part,” the defence secretary said.
Quoting unnamed Pakistani officials, the US media said that the Pakistan government had hoped to resolve the Afridi matter quietly, once media attention died down, perhaps release him to the US custody.
Nearly nine months after the Osama raid, Panetta says the Islamist terror group is still “a real threat to the US.”
“And clearly we are confronting al-Qaeda in Pakistan. We’re confronting the nodes of al-Qaeda in Yemen, Somalia, North Africa and obviously al-Qaeda links are involved in Afghanistan,” he added.