LONDON — The man who took charge of Pakistan's intelligence agency after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks said Wednesday that he wasn't surprised that Osama bin Laden had been living in his country but that he doubted the al Qaida leader had been hiding out for five years in the compound where he died.
"It would be totally uncharacteristic of al Qaida to keep its No. 1 in one place for five years," retired Gen. Ehsan ul-Haq said in rare public comments after addressing a conference on security issues in London. "He might've been there for only a few months."
Pakistani intelligence officials have said that bin Laden's wife told them under questioning that the al Qaida leader and his family had lived in a walled compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, for five years before U.S. special forces stormed in May 2 and shot him dead.
Bin Laden's refuge in Abbottabad, a military garrison town that's home to the country's most prestigious military academy, sparked speculation that he must have had support from Pakistan's military or spy agencies, but Haq said he was confident that wasn't true.
"He must've thought it was safe," Haq said of bin Laden, because the town has experienced "no serious acts of terror."
But he also acknowledged that bin Laden's undetected presence reflected poorly on Pakistan's military.
"How was it that we weren't the ones who picked him up? That was an embarrassment," he said.
Haq, who's now 61, was appointed the head of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, Pakistan's spy agency, after 9/11, a position he held until 2004, when he was appointed the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He retired in 2007.
That would have placed him in a position of authority at the time that bin Laden settled in Abbottabad, if the earlier accounts are true.
Haq began his military career as an air defense officer, and he said the undetected "ingress" by U.S. Navy SEALs in a special stealth helicopter was also embarrassing.
"You'd like your air defenses to protect your sovereignty," he said. "We should've known."
Haq said he was also embarrassed for his country that the Americans didn't trust the Pakistanis enough to let them share in the operation or at least know about it. "I think it's not fair to Pakistan, given our sacrifices."
Pakistani security forces had earlier scooped up two key al Qaida catches in the war on terrorism, self-professed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed on March 1, 2003, in another garrison town, Rawalpindi, and Ramzi bin al Shibh on Sept. 11, 2002, in Karachi in a gun battle that wounded some Pakistani security forces.
(Rosenberg reports for The Miami Herald.)
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