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Tensions Rise As U.S. Officials Question Bin Laden's Hiding In Pakistan


President Asif Ali Zardari has denied Islamabad gave shelter to the Al-Qaeda leader.
Tensions between the United States and Pakistan have intensified as Obama administration officials questioned how Osama bin Laden had managed to shelter inside Pakistan.

The Al-Qaeda leader and founder was shot dead on May 2 when U.S. Special Forces stormed his compound north of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad.

The world's most-wanted man had been hiding, possibly for as long as five years, in the compound, located close to Pakistan's military academy in Abbottabad.

In an interview with National Public Radio on May 3, White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan questioned how the Pakistani authorities could not have known bin Laden was living in the sprawling compound "for so many years."

"I think it would be premature to rule out the possibility that there were some individuals inside of Pakistan, including within the official Pakistani establishment, who might have been aware of this," Brennan said. "But we're not accusing anybody at this point, but we want to make sure we get to the bottom of this."

Reflecting the extent of mistrust between the two supposed allies, CIA Director Leon Panetta told "Time" magazine that no intelligence was shared with Islamabad about the raid, fearing Pakistani officials might "alert the targets" and jeopardize the mission.

Top Pakistani officials have welcomed bin Laden's death, while hitting back at statements suggesting the country's security agencies were too incompetent to catch the Al-Qaeda leader or knew where he was hiding.

Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir told the BBC today that Panetta's view was "disquieting" and that his country had a "pivotal role" in tackling terrorism.

Bashir echoed a statement by his ministry that said the CIA had "exploited the intelligence leads given by us to identify and reach" bin Laden.

It also expressed "deep concerns and reservations" about the U.S. operation, saying "unauthorized unilateral action" should not become the norm.

In "The Washington Post," President Asif Ali Zardari had earlier denied as "baseless" U.S. speculation that Islamabad "protected the terrorists we claimed to be pursuing."

Speaking in Paris, where he met with French business leaders today, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said Islamabad shared the "intelligence failure" with the rest of the world, including the United States.

Gilani also called for the "support of the entire world," adding that "security and the fight against extremism or terrorism is not the job of only one nation."

Bin Laden's ability to elude a long manhunt in Pakistan has also raised questions among U.S. legislators and leaders in other countries.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said: "I find it hard to believe that the presence of a person or individual such as bin Laden in a large compound in a relatively small town...could go completely unnoticed."

And British Prime Minister David Cameron demanded that Pakistani leaders explain how bin Laden had lived undetected in Abbottabad.

But Cameron added that having a "massive row" with Islamabad over the issue would not be in Britain's interest.

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner agreed, saying, "Sunday's action in many ways was a result of some of that cooperation over the years. We believe it's not only in Pakistan's long-term interest but in our national security interest that that cooperation continue."

As Islamabad faced intense international scrutiny over bin Laden's hiding in Pakistan, the White House released more details about the U.S. raid that differed in some respects from the initial accounts given by U.S. officials.

The White House said bin Laden was unarmed when he was shot in the head after resisting capture -- apparently contradicting an earlier account from a U.S. security official that bin Laden had "participated" in a firefight with the elite U.S. forces.

Two couriers and one woman died in the assault, while one of bin Laden's wives was injured -- again, different from the initial account that said the wife was killed while acting as a human shield. A fifth person killed in the raid was believed to be one of the Al-Qaeda leader's sons.

The United States has not commented on anyone it captured, other than saying it had taken bin Laden's body and buried it at sea.

U.S. officials are now discussing how and when to release pictures of his body.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the "gruesome" image could inflame sensitivities, but Panetta said the government is likely to release a photograph.

compiled from agency reports