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Image: Soldiers keep guard around a compound within which al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was reportedly killed in Abbottabad
Faisal Mahmood  /  Reuters
Pakistani soldiers patrol near the compound in Abbottabad in which al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden hid out before he was killed in a Sunday raid by U.S. special forces.
By Michael Isikoff National investigative correspondent
NBC News
updated 5/2/2011 7:57:08 PM ET 2011-05-02T23:57:08

Osama bin Laden’s presence in an elaborately fortified  million-dollar compound   “raises questions” about what some Pakistani officials might have known about the al-Qaida leader’s presence prior to Sunday’s raid that killed him, the top White House counterterrorism adviser said Monday.

The pointed comments by White House advisor John Brennan come amid mounting tensions between the Obama administration and Pakistani officials over intelligence cooperation, fueled in part by longstanding U.S. suspicions about ties between the ISI, the Pakistani intelligence service, and various terrorist groups linked to al-Qaida, such as the home-grown Laskhar e Taiba.

In a separate  briefing Monday, senior U.S. officials stated that that the U.S. government did not inform Pakistani officials beforehand about the successful helicopter assault that killed bin Laden at his compound in Abbottabad, a city  about 60 miles north of Pakistan’s capital of Islamabad. 

The location of the large bin Laden compound -- less than two miles from a  prestigious  military academy that is sometimes known as Pakistan’s West Point  -- raises questions about what some Pakistani officials may have known, Brennan said at a briefing for White House reporters.  While Pakistani officials “seem surprised” to learn that bin Laden was hiding in the city, Brennan said he questioned how “a compound of that size in that area” could exist without arousing suspicions.

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A Pakistani official on Monday denied there was any prior official knowledge of bin Laden’s presence in the conspicuously large house with high walls surrounded by barbed wire in Abbottabad, a relatively affluent area heavily populated by current and former members of that country’s military and intelligence establishment. The million dollar compound was built in 2005, U.S. officials said.

“There is no chance at all of this,” said one Pakistani official when asked whether any government officials knew about bin Laden’s presence or were protecting him. “We are doing (counterterrorism) operations and our people are being killed.”  

But some counterterrorism experts aren’t buying it, noting that the bin Laden compound was literally walking distance from the Kakul Military Academy, the country’s premier military academy. Only a week ago,  Pakistan’s Army Chief of Staff Ashfaq Parez Kayanim addressed  graduating cadets about the country’s anti-terrorism efforts at the school.

Ali Soufan, a veteran former FBI counterterrorism agent, noted that the compound is located in a town heavily populated by current and former Pakistani military officers – and is relatively free of any terrorist activity. “There’s no way he could have been sitting there without the knowledge of some people in the ISI and the Pakistani military," said Soufan.

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U.S. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J., is asking similar questions. He said Monday that he wants more information about Pakistan’s commitment to the fight terrorism before the country receives up to $3 billion in aid from the United States planned for fiscal 2012.

“This tremendous milestone in the fight against terrorism also raises serious questions about Pakistan’s commitment to that effort,” he said. “The ability of Osama bin Laden to live in a compound so close to Pakistan's capital is astounding – and we need to understand who knew his location, when they knew it, and whether Pakistani officials were helping to protect him.”

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Video: Pakistan's credibility questioned

  1. Closed captioning of: Pakistan's credibility questioned

    >>> what i said before the break, a lot of americans thought osama bin laden was frankly living in a cave, on the run all these years. we were surprised, a lot of people were, to find out he was living in a very nice home, the best in that area. the question is, how many other people knew about it? our chief foreign affairs correspondent, andrea mitchell in our washington bureau has been working this aspect of the story.

    >> in the end, osama bin laden wasn't underground in a remote mountain cave after all. he was living in luxury in a suburb of pakistan 's capital, on land controlled by the military, hiding in plain sight. in this sleepy military town, only 35 miles from islamabad, his military compound was a mansion with 10 to 18-foot walls topped with wire. there were other red flags . the luxury home eight times the others around it had no phone or internet access . in these pictures, neighbors are almost next door in the military academy , the equivalent of our west point.

    >> it is a little incredible. my personal view is they certainly probably were aware of it.

    >> reporter: u.s. intelligence contend it could have only been built for osama bin laden . so how could army and spies not have known?

    >> it could have been a case of eyes wide shut where they kept their eyes wide opened bup closed as far as americans were concerned.

    >> there are a lot of questions asked about the role of the pakistani intelligence agency and as well, the pakistani military .

    >> reporter: the neighborhood certainly noticed the raid, blogged in realtime in twitter at reallyvirtual. helicopter hovering above abbottabad is a rare occurrence. they have poured almost $20 billion into pakistan without getting a reliable ally. bill clinton couldn't get pakistan to cooperate in going after the terrorists. after 9/11, they said they had to target al qaeda , but little happened. last year, hillary clinton said was many were thinking.

    >> i believe somewhere in our government, there are people who know where osama bin laden and al qaeda is.

    >> reporter: today, the president's anti-terror chief said it's unconceivable he didn't have a support system inside pakistan and he acknowledged people are wondering if that support came from pakistan 's government, adding, understandably.

    >> andrea mitchell with that asspktd

Timeline: A timeline of Osama bin Laden's life

Considered enemy No. 1 by the U.S., the Saudi millionaire is the perpetrator behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Click on key dates to learn more about the founder of al-Qaida, an international terror network.

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