The Pakistan Army condemned on Friday a report in The New York Times that a cell phone found in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden contained contacts to a militant group with ties to Pakistan’s top spy agency.
The newspaper, citing unnamed senior US officials briefed on the findings, reported on Thursday that the discovery indicated that Bin Laden used the group, Harakat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM), as part of his support network inside Pakistan.
The cell phone belonged to Bin Laden’s courier, who was killed along with the al Qaeda godfather in the May 2 raid by US special forces on a compound in Abbottabad, the NYT said.
Military spokesperson Major-General Athar Abbas said in a statement sent by text message that the military “rejects the insinuations made in the NYT story”. “It is part of a well-orchestrated smear campaign against our security organisations,” he said.
The army has been angered by media reports that elements in the Pakistani security establishment may have helped Bin Laden hide in Pakistan. “Pakistan, its security forces have suffered the most at the hands of al Qaeda and have delivered the most against al Qaeda; our actions on the ground speak louder than the words of the Times,” Abbas said.
Meanwhile, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) has denied any links with al Qaeda or Bin Laden. “Al Qaeda has their own discipline, their own thinking, their own organisation. We have never ever been in touch with Bin Laden,” a spokesman for the group told the BBC.
Although banned in Pakistan, analysts say HuM has links with the country’s intelligence agency. But the group’s spokesperson denied that they had any links with the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
The report comes days after a Pakistani brigadier serving at the army’s headquarters was detained for allegedly having contacts with the banned extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir. He denies the allegation. Four majors were also questioned for involvement with outlawed militant outfits.
Leaving aside HuM’s alleged contacts with al Qaeda, the group has a long history of militant activities. In 1998 when the US rained cruise missiles on suspected al Qaeda bases in the Khost province of Afghanistan to avenge the bombing of US missions in Kenya and Tanzania, nine HuM militants were killed and several wounded.
The group’s former leader, Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, is cited by the NYT report as being a co-signer of Bin Laden’s 1998 edict ordering attacks against America. The group was central to organising press trips for journalists to see Bin Laden in Afghanistan before the 9/11 attacks.
During the Afghan jihad against the Soviets in the 1980s, HuM fighters had fought alongside the Younus Khalis faction of Hizb-e-Islami. And after the withdrawal of Soviet troops, HuM had infiltrated Indian-administered Kashmir to fight the ‘Indian occupation’.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 25th, 2011.