The cell phone of Osama Bin Laden’s courier, recovered in the May raid that killed both men in Pakistan, contained contacts to a militant group that has long worked closely with Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the New York Times reports.
Citing mostly unnamed senior American officials, the paper explains that the group Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen was a part of the former al-Qaida leader’s support network inside Pakistan.
The discovery raises questions about whether the group and others like it helped to shelter Bin Laden on behalf of Pakistan’s spy agency.
Harakat is one of many militant groups established in the 1980s and early ’90s with the approval and assistance of Pakistan’s spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, the Times explains. Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer, described the group as “one of the oldest and closest allies of al-Qaida, and they are very, very close to the ISI.”
Riedel added: “The question of ISI and Pakistani Army complicity in Bin Laden’s hide-out now hangs like a dark cloud over the entire relationship” between Pakistan and the U.S.
American analysts traced calls on the cell phone and determined that Harakat commanders were contacting Pakistani intelligence officials. But officials could not prove the contacts were about Bin Laden, and therefore lacked any “smoking gun” for the claim that Pakistan sheltered the al-Qaida leader.
Still, these revelations could shed light on how the most wanted man in the world was able to live comfortably in Abbottabad, a Pakistani military town that is only a three-hour drive from the capital. Analysts say Harakat has “deep roots” in the area, and that its members would have made life in the city far easier for Bin Laden. The group’s leader, a long-time Bin Laden associate, lives “unbothered by Pakistani authorities on the outskirts of Islamabad.”