Group denies reported ties to bin Laden

June 24, 2011 at 9:30 AM
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WASHINGTON, June 24 (UPI) -- A member of a Pakistani militant group denied a report a cellphone found in a raid on Osama bin Laden's complex held data tying his group to bin Laden.

The member of Harakat-ul-Mujahedin said he was unaware of any support his group gave bin Laden during the years the al-Qaida leader was in hiding at a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, CNN reported.

The statement by the man contradicts a New York Times article that reported a cellphone belonging to a bin Laden courier had contact information for members of Harakat-ul-Mujahedin. The Times article, published Thursday, said Harakat-ul-Mujahedin also has ties to Pakistani intelligence services.

In recent weeks U.S. and Pakistani diplomats have been trying to repair the relationship between the two countries, which has deteriorated since the raid in which bin Laden was killed in May. The United States believes Pakistan isn't pursuing al-Qaida and other extremists aggressively enough while the Pakistanis are upset with what they consider unilateral steps taken by the United States within Pakistan's borders.

The New York Times said officials and analysts want to know whether Harakat-ul-Mujahedin and other militant groups helped shield bin Laden on behalf of the Pakistani spy agency in return for being allowed to operate in Pakistan for years.

U.S. officials said calls traced on the cellphone by analysts showed Harakat-ul-Mujahedin commanders had called Pakistani intelligence officials. But the officials said the calls were not necessarily about bin Laden and thus provided no "smoking gun" to show the spy agency had protected bin Laden, the Times reported.

However, the numbers on the cellphone are a "serious lead" to the critical question as to how bin Laden could live for years in Abbottabad, a garrison town just northeast of Islamabad, one official said.

"It's an avenue we're investigating," the official said.

The Times quoted analysts as saying Harakat-ul-Mujahedin has deep roots in the Abbottabad area, its leaders have strong ties both with al-Qaida and Pakistani intelligence and, as Pakistanis, can move freely within the area.

Harakat-ul-Mujahedin, along with several other militant groups, was set up with the help of Pakistan's premier spy agency initially to fight in Afghanistan against the Soviets, or against India in Kashmir.

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