Obama calls for explanation of bin Laden's network in Pakistan

McClatchy NewspapersMay 8, 2011 

ABBOTTABAD, Pakistan — President Barack Obama, in an interview broadcast on Sunday, demanded to know what kind of "support network" Osama bin Laden had in Pakistan, adding to the pressure on Pakistan's government to explain the al Qaida chief's presence in the country.

Obama had been due to visit Pakistan this year, but that now looks unlikely. Last week, the CIA director, Leon Panetta, told Congress that Pakistan had been "either involved or incompetent" in having bin Laden in the country.

The al Qaida leader was found and killed by a team of U.S. Navy SEALS on May 2 in a house in Abbottabad, a small town in northern Pakistan which is full of military installations and bases. So far, bin Laden's only known helpers are two Pakistani brothers, who lived with him in the house and were killed in the American operation.

"We think that there had to be some sort of support network for bin Laden inside of Pakistan. But we don't know who or what that support network was," Obama said in an interview with the CBS's "60 Minutes." "We don't know whether there might have been some people inside of government, people outside of government, and that's something that we have to investigate, and more importantly, the Pakistani government has to investigate."

On Monday Pakistan's prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, will comment formally on the bin Laden issue for the first time, making a statement to parliament. Lawmakers also will debate the issue, which is highly sensitive as it concerns Pakistan's powerful military.

Pakistani politicians and media are focused on the breach of the country's sovereignty that was required for the raid on bin Laden, which apparently was carried out with no prior warning to Pakistan.

"The Abbottabad operation was the murder of our honor and it shows there's no government in this country," senior opposition lawmaker Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, told reporters Saturday.

Opposition lawmakers have demanded that Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari resign. The government, however, doesn't run security policy or the country's air defenses. The military keeps all security issues tightly under its control. In this case, bin Laden's house was even located in the military cantonment area of Abbottabad.

Obama's national security adviser, Tom Donilon, in a series of interviews with Sunday morning shows, said: "I've not seen evidence that would tell us that the political, the military, or the intelligence leadership (of Pakistan) had foreknowledge of bin Laden" being in Pakistan.

Pakistani authorities began a tentative crackdown over the weekend on international media coverage of the house where bin Laden was found, reporters said.

American and other foreign networks, including CNN and Al Jazeera, were issued written legal warnings by the Pakistani media regulatory authority on Saturday to stop broadcasting from Abbottabad. Other Pakistani officials pressed international reporters to leave the town, saying their visas did not permit them to be there. Channel 4, a British broadcaster, was forced to leave Abbottabad Thursday, reporters for the channel said.

There's speculation that Pakistani authorities want to run foreign television networks out of town so they can demolish the house, where the al Qaida leader had lived undetected for at least five years, without live coverage. However, there also were rumors that the house would be opened up to news media.

Since Sunday, dozens of foreign reporters from all over the world packed hotels and guest houses in Abbottabad. TV journalists have been reporting all week from the boundary wall of the house or vantage points with a view of the compound when the military periodically allows access to the area.

The letter from the press minder, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regularity Authority, said: "Up-linking or broadcasting of any event from Pakistan, whether live or recorded, without seeking permission from PEMRA is illegal and a violation of PEMRA/Pakistani law."

Officers from the Federal Investigation Agency, a civilian intelligence agency with responsibility for immigration issues, have visited the hotels and guest houses and ordered some reporters to leave. Agents from the Intelligence Bureau, another civilian spy agency, had been keeping watch on which foreign journalists had been staying, demanding copies of passports and visiting hotels daily to see who was still there.

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