Bin Laden hideout a command center? Pakistanis have doubts.
Bin Laden hideout: theories that Osama bin Laden was commanding terrorist activities throughout the world from his hideout in Pakistan have Pakistanis saying 'no way.'
It didn't figure. U.S. Intelligence released footage of a grey- bearded, dishevelled figure wrapped in a shawl and wearing a woolen hat, and then it said that this same old man had been calling the shots on al Qaeda's plots around the globe.
"It sounds ridiculous," said a senior intelligence official. "It doesn't sound like he was running a terror network."
For one thing, there was no internet connection or even telephone lines into the compound that U.S. commandos raided a week ago, killing the world's most-wanted man.
More critically, analysts have long maintained that, years before bin Laden's death, al Qaeda had fragmented into a decentralized group that operated tactically without him.
"They will say whatever they like," said another senior Pakistani security official, when quizzed on a U.S. intelligence official's assertion that bin Laden had been "active in operational planning and in driving tactical decisions" of the Islamist militant group from his secret home in the town of Abbottabad. "I can say tomorrow that he was planning to make nuclear or chemical weapons ... Would you believe it? I think there's an element of exaggeration. They're playing it up."
A senior U.S. intelligence official said in Washington information carted away from the compound by U.S. forces after the May 2 raid, including the videos, several clips of which were released, represented the largest trove of intelligence ever obtained from a single terrorism suspect.
The official said the materials showed that bin Laden had remained an active leader of al Qaeda, which made the operation that led to his death "even more essential for our nation's security."
TWO COUNTRIES, TWO VERSIONS
Pakistan's military, caught off guard by the Abbottabad swoop and now facing accusations that it was either too incompetent to catch bin Laden or complicit in hiding him, has sought to depict the al Qaeda leader as a man of diminished influence.
Both countries have an interest in peddling their own versions of the clout that bin Laden carried from behind the walls of his compound.
Stressing bin Laden's weakness makes his discovery in the middle of a garrison town less embarrassing for Pakistan, but playing up his importance makes the U.S. operation all the more glorious.
Analysts say that bin Laden's centrality to the network had already faded. While the man behind the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States served as an inspirational figure, strikes on Western targets were increasingly plotted and instigated by autonomous splinter groups.
"As a matter of leadership of terrorist operations, bin Laden has really not been the main story for some time," Paul Pillar, a former senior U.S. Intelligence official told Reuters last week.
Talat Masood, a Pakistani defense analyst and retired general, said bin Laden distributed videos occasionally and he may have passed computer disks with ideas for strikes to his couriers, but it was hard to see how that would put him at the nerve center of operations.
"The only thing he could have done in that house is to record video and audio messages," a senior security official said in Islamabad.
"How could he control the whole of al Qaeda from there while he has no communications system? How can he control the entire al Qaeda when he was living with two guards, an 18-inch television and no big weapons. It's just an exaggeration."