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Conspiracy theories on bin Laden take root in Pakistan

Revelations that Osama bin Laden was killed on the doorstep seemed so outlandish that conspiracy theories of nefarious US activities raced like wildfire through the quiet Pakistani town.

world Updated: May 03, 2011 09:11 IST

Revelations that Osama bin Laden was killed on the doorstep seemed so outlandish that conspiracy theories of nefarious US activities raced like wildfire through the quiet Pakistani town.

Nestled in pine-dotted hills, the Bilal suburb of the relatively well-off garrison town of Abbottabad was the last place in Pakistan where people would ever imagine that the world's "most wanted" man was lying low.

Unlike other parts of the northwest, many people wear Western dress. Unlike in bin Laden's native Saudi Arabia, women are seen driving cars and no one who spoke to AFP said they had ever seen an Arab.

The first time they realised anything was wrong, the neighbours say, was when helicopters suddenly roared overhead in the dead of night, before loud explosions and then gunfire deafened the area. Frightened, they woke up.

But it was only when they switched on the television that they heard US President Barack Obama say the world's most-wanted terrorist, with a $25 million price on his head, had been killed in their town.

Educated professionals went from astonished to incredulous to disbelieving, delving into conspiracy theories that run deep in Pakistan, fanned by widespread distrust of the government's official ally in the war on terror.

Bashir Qureshi, 61, who lives just a bean field away from where bin Laden was shot and whose windows were blown out in the raid, was dismissive.

"Nobody believes it. We've never seen any Arabs around here," he said laughing. "They (the US) said they had thrown his body to the sea! This is wrong, he was not here."

Even a policeman guarding the site was doubtful why he was there.

"I don't believe he was there. We were called to come at 3.00am (2230 GMT Sunday) but we've seen nothing, the operation was already over".

Shakil Ahmed, who works for a pharmaceutical company, said he believed that the US desire to pull 130,000 international troops out of Afghanistan and wrap up a 10-year war against the Taliban was a motive for peddling lies.

"The US wants to quit Afghanistan. They are saying Osama is dead so they can have an excuse. They have tried to defame the Pakistani army by cooking up this story," he said.

"If he is killed, why don't they show his body?"

It was the lack of evidence presented by the Americans straight after the killing that perhaps did most to raise suspicions.

An American official said US forces administered Muslim religious rites for bin Laden on an aircraft carrier in the Arabian Sea, before the body was eased overboard for a watery burial in a weighted bag.

In Cairo, the top Sunni Muslim authority said Islam opposes burials at sea. In Pakistan's city of Lahore, a prominent cleric questioned the hasty burial.

"It could create doubts and can trigger suspicions," said Mufti Raghib Naeemi, whose father -- Sarfraz Naeemi, an anti-Taliban scholar -- was killed in a suicide attack in Lahore in 2009.

Defence analyst Imtiaz Gul said conspiracy theories were only to be expected in a country where anti-Americanism is rampant, given that nobody had seen the body and that the nature of the covert operation raised so many questions.

"Unless Americans present proof, it will remain a subject of speculation," Gul said. "Because things are not transparent."

"As nobody knew that he was living there, it raises many doubts like the Americans might have had him somewhere else and brought him along in an Apache.

"Since there were no casualties in the helicopter crash it also raises the question whether it was Osama bin Laden in that helicopter," he said.

The US special forces operation on sovereign Pakistani soil, just two hours' drive from the headquarters of the government and the military, was also a source of huge embarrassment, if not humiliation.

Many Western analysts believe Pakistan is often in denial about the degree to which the state bears responsibility for nurturing militants, instead blaming Afghanistan and foreign powers for the woes facing the country.

In Pakistan's largest city of Karachi, the sea port used by NATO to ship the bulk of their supplies to troops fighting in Afghanistan, there was some support for bin Laden's killing but also suspicions.

"I still doubt that Osama had been been killed in Pakistan," said IT professional Qaiser Khan, 55.

"The Americans might have killed him somewhere else -- in Afghanistan -- and played a Hollywood-like stunt here to defame our country."

ht epaper

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