WASHINGTON, May 3 – The United States warned it would probe Osama bin Laden\’s support network in Pakistan, raising tough questions for its anti-terror ally after killing the Al-Qaeda kingpin in a daring raid.
Officials said DNA tests had proven conclusively that the man US special
forces killed Sunday in the city of Abbottabad was indeed their reviled foe blamed for the deaths of 3,000 people in the September 11 attacks in 2001.
They also revealed bin Laden was buried at sea after Islamic rites on the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier, as many world leaders welcomed his demise but warned it did not mean the challenge from terror was over.
Washington wanted to prevent any dry land grave site becoming a shrine for a man whose supporters now view as a martyr.
President Barack Obama\’s top anti-terror adviser John Brennan said it was "inconceivable" bin Laden did not have a support network in Pakistan.
US officials are puzzled by the comfortable surroundings of the Abbottabad compound where bin Laden lived, and the fact that his presence in a fortified, upscale building did not attract Pakistani authorities\’ suspicions.
In another sign of mistrust between Washington and Islamabad, Brennan said US officials did not notify Pakistan of the raid until its helicopters exited Pakistani airspace with bin Laden\’s remains.
World leaders welcomed the news but warned that Al-Qaeda\’s willingness to wreak havoc was undimmed and that reprisal attacks were likely.
Pakistan\’s main Taliban faction threatened to attack Pakistan and the United States, calling them "the enemies of Islam."
"If he (bin Laden) has become a martyr, it is a great victory for us because martyrdom is the aim of all of us," spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told AFP by phone.
An Internet outlet for official Al-Qaeda messages accepted the death of the "knight" who sacrificed his soul and money to fight the United States, according to US-based monitoring group SITE.
Hundreds took to the streets in Quetta, a Pakistani city believed to be home to the Afghanistan Taliban\’s ruling council, in Pakistan\’s first rally to honor bin Laden, burning a US flag and chanting anti-American slogans.
Elite troops from the US Navy SEALs carried out the assault, which lasted less than 40 minutes.
The exact circumstances of bin Laden\’s final moments remained unclear. One official confirmed the Al-Qaeda leader was shot in the head, and some reports also suggested he took a round to the chest.
Footage aired by the US network ABC inside the house showed blood on the floor in one room and broken computers in another, stripped of their hard drives.
Explosions, helicopters clattering overhead and gunfire tore locals from their sleep as they rushed to see what was going on, residents said.
Ejaz Mahmood, an Abbottabad tailor, said he heard a blast in the early hours and "saw a fireball coming down from the air."
One helicopter in the raid went down due to "mechanical failure" but was blown up by its crew, who left the compound along with the assault force on another chopper, a US official said.
The White House released a photo of Obama and key aides watching action unfold on the operation, apparently on a screen in the White House Situation Room.
Obama was sitting to one side, staring intently at the screen out of the shoot. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had a hand over her mouth, while other officials looked on with deep concern etched on their faces.
Obama\’s gruff anti-terror adviser Brennan, who hunted the Al-Qaeda mastermind for 15 years, described how "minutes passed like days."
Residents in Abbottabad were stunned when they switched on their TV sets after daybreak to hear Obama announce that bin Laden had been killed in their hometown, which was soon engulfed by a heavy Pakistani security presence.
"We heard ambulance sirens and security people shouting. We saw fire and flames coming out," according to another resident too frightened to give his name.
Until now, bin Laden had always managed to evade US forces, despite a $25 million bounty on his head, and was most often thought to be hiding in the rugged moutainous terrain along the Afghan-Pakistani border.
His presence in Abbottabad — a leafy town home to an elite Pakistani military academy — heightened doubts about the Islamabad government\’s zeal for prosecuting the war on terror.
Clinton said "cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound in which he was hiding," but Brennan\’s more detailed comments revealed the independence of the US operation.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari defended his country against accusations it did not do enough to track down bin Laden, but made no direct comment on alleged intelligence failures.
"Although the events of Sunday were not a joint operation, a decade of cooperation and partnership between the United States and Pakistan led up to the elimination of Osama bin Laden as a continuing threat to the civilized world," Zardari wrote in an op-ed for the Washington Post.
Underneath a headline reading "Pakistan did its part," he added: "we in Pakistan take some satisfaction that our early assistance in identifying an Al-Qaeda courier ultimately led to this day."
But Zardari offered no explanation on how bin Laden managed to live for years undetected in Abbottabad, a hillside retreat popular with retired Pakistani generals just a few hours\’ drive from Islamabad.
"He was not anywhere we had anticipated he would be, but now he is gone," Zardari wrote.
Pakistan\’s envoy to the United States, Husain Haqqani, promised in an earlier interview with CNN that a "full inquiry" would be held into any intelligence failures.
Angry US lawmakers demanded to know how a man blamed for killing thousands of Americans lived unperturbed in a country that receives billions of dollars of US aid.
Leaders in both Afghanistan and India said bin Laden\’s discovery so close to Islamabad vindicated their claims of double-dealing by their nuclear-armed neighbor.
The US State Department warned of the potential for reprisals against Americans, while CIA director Leon Panetta said terrorist groups "almost certainly" would try to avenge bin Laden.
And in what promises to be a bitter-sweet moment for Americans as they rejoice at bin Laden\’s death but old 9/11 wounds are reopened, the White House announced that Obama would visit Ground Zero on Thursday.
A White House official who requested anonymity said the president would meet families of 9/11 victims killed when Al-Qaeda flew hijacked airliners into New York\’s famed twin towers.