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Associated Press - May 6, 2011 7:56 a.m. - Updated: 7:56 a.m.
One of three wives living with Osama bin Laden told Pakistani interrogators she had been staying in the al-Qaida chief’s hideout for six years, and could be a key source of information about how he avoided capture for so long, a Pakistani intelligence official said today.
In its first confirmation of bin Laden’s death, al-Qaida warned of retaliation in an Internet statement, saying Americans’ “happiness will turn to sadness.”
Bin Laden’s wife, identified as Yemeni-born Amal Ahmed Abdullfattah, said she never left the upper floors of the house the entire time she was there. She and bin Laden’s other two wives are being interrogated in Pakistan after they were taken into custody following Monday’s American raid on bin Laden’s compound in the town of Abbottabad.
Pakistani authorities are also holding eight or nine children who were found there after the U.S. commandos left.
Given shifting and incomplete accounts from U.S. officials about what happened during the raid, testimony from bin Laden’s wives may be significant in unveiling details about the operation.
Their accounts will also help show how bin Laden spent his time and managed to stay hidden, living in a large house close to a military academy in a garrison town, a two-and-a-half hours’ drive from the capital, Islamabad. A Pakistani official said CIA officers had not been given access to the women in custody. Already-tense military and intelligence relations between the United States and Pakistan have been further strained after the helicopter-borne raid, which many Pakistanis see as a violation of their country’s sovereignty.
The proximity of bin Laden’s hideout to the military garrison and the Pakistani capital also has raised suspicions in Washington that bin Laden may have been protected by Pakistani security forces while on the run. Risking more tensions, missiles fired from a U.S. drone killed 15 people, including foreign militants, in North Waziristan, an al-Qaida and Taliban hotspot close to Afghanistan, Pakistani officials said.
Such attacks were routine last year, but their frequency has dropped this year amid opposition by the Pakistan security establishment.
Pakistan’s army — a key U.S. ally in the Afghanistan war — on Thursday threatened to review cooperation with Washington if it stages anymore attacks like the one that killed bin Laden.
The Pakistani intelligence official did not say Friday whether the Yemeni wife has said that bin Laden was also living there since 2006. “We are still getting information from them,” he said. Another security official said the wife was shot in the leg during the operation, and did not witness her husband being killed.
He also said one of bin Laden’s eldest daughters had said she witnessed the Americans killing her father. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to give their names to the media. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s intelligence agency has concluded that bin Laden was “cash strapped” in his final days and al-Qaida had split into two factions, with the larger one controlled by the group’s No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri, according to a briefing given by two senior military officers.
The officers spoke to a small group of Pakistani reporters late Thursday and their comments were confirmed for The Associated Press by another top military officer who was present at the briefing.
The officer, who asked that his name not be used because of the sensitivity of the meeting, didn’t provide details or elaborate how his agency made the conclusions about bin Laden’s financial situation or the split with his deputy, al-Zawahri.
The al-Qaida chief apparently had lived without any guards at the Abbottabad compound or loyalists nearby to take up arms in his defense. The image of Pakistan’s intelligence agency has been battered at home and abroad in the wake of the raid that killed bin Laden. Portraying him as isolated and weak could be aimed at trying to create an impression that a failure to spot him was not so important.
Documents taken from the house by American commandos showed that bin Laden was planning to hit America, however, including a plan for derailing an American train on the upcoming 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The confiscated materials reveal the rail attack was planned as of February 2010.