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Taliban plotting to free Osama's family: Pak

Pakistan has warned that the Taliban are plotting to get Osama bin Laden's wives and children freed, by kidnapping a government official and then offering to exchange him for the slain al-Qaeda chief's family.

world Updated: Sep 09, 2011 23:27 IST

Pakistan is warning that the Taliban are plotting to secure the freedom of Osama bin Laden's wives and children by kidnapping a high-ranking government official and then offering to exchange him or her for the slain terror chief's family.

US Navy seals killed bin Laden in a May helicopter-borne raid on his house in northwestern Pakistan.

They took the corpse with them, but left at least two of his wives and several children in the house. They were detained by Pakistani authorities.

Pakistan's interior ministry warned of the kidnap purported plot in a letter that was sent to top security officials on Aug 23 — just three days before gunmen seized Shahbaz Taseer, the son of a wealthy provincial governor who was killed by an Islamist militant earlier this year.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik said there was no evidence that the group that had seized Taseer from the streets of the Punjab provincial capital, Lahore, was hoping to exchange him for bin Laden's family members.

An Associated Press reported obtained a copy of the letter, stamped "secret" on Friday.

It said the information that led to the warning was reliable. It doesn't say which Pakistani official the Taliban plan to kidnap, but said the most likely location was one of the country's four provincial capitals.

Pakistan has reportedly released Taliban prisoners before in exchange for kidnapped government officials and army officers.

Taseer's kidnapping was the second high-profile abduction in Lahore in August. On Aug. 15, gunmen seized a 70-year-old American aid expert from his house. The man, Warren Weinstein, is still missing, and police have declined to speculate on who may be holding him.

Meanwhile, Pakistani police said they were preventing foreign journalists and other visitors from getting close to the house of bin Laden ahead of the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The Danish Ambassador to Pakistan and his wife, and two French journalists, were among several people detained this week in Abbottabad — the Pakistani garrison town that was bin Laden's last hideout.

They were held briefly before being allowed to return to the capital, Islamabad, police in the northern town said.

Ambassador Uffe Wolffhechel said he asked security officers at a checkpoint on the road to the house whether he and his wife could get in viewing range of it and "they said 'we are sorry, no,' and we shook hands and said 'have a nice day'."

He said they were then held for around two hours while officers checked their papers.

The U.S. operation that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad in early May triggered embarrassing questions over how the CIA was able to track him down without the knowledge of Pakistan's powerful army and spy agencies. A backlash ensued, with authorities placing foreigners in Pakistan under greater scrutiny.

However, there have been no formal instructions to media organizations prohibiting their travel to Abbottabad.

Abbottabad police officer Karim Khan said the authorities were preventing journalists and foreigners from visiting the compound because it is regarded as evidence in investigations into how bin Laden lived there and how the CIA found him.

An editorial in the Dawn newspaper on Friday criticized the ban on foreigners visiting.

"Let's face it: the Bin Laden compound, as the site where the world's most wanted terrorist was found, killed and his body taken away in a raid of high drama, will continue to attract visitors," it said.

"The arbitrary restrictions imposed on visiting or filming in Abbottabad are thus untenable, and must be lifted to show the world that there is nothing there that Pakistan wants to hide."

In the days after the raid, hundreds of journalists traveled to the army town and were permitted — initially at least — to get as far as the door of the large, high-walled compound where bin Laden and his wives and children had been living for several years.

First Published: Sep 09, 2011 19:46 IST