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Bin Laden 'lived for 5 years in Pakistan house'

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ISLAMABAD - Osama bin Laden's Yemeni wife claimed the Al-Qaeda kingpin had lived for five years in the compound in Abbottabad where he was shot dead by US commandos, Pakistani security officials said Saturday.

The uncorroborated revelation could pile further embarrassment on Pakistan, which is already reeling from accusations of incompetence and complicity in allowing bin Laden to hide out a mere 30 miles (50 kilometres) from Islamabad.

The terror chief's wife, who was shot in the leg during the raid by US Navy SEALs, is undergoing medical treatment and interrogation in Pakistan along with 15 of his other relatives, the officials said.

"She said in Arabic that bin Laden and his family were living in this compound for the last five years and he never left the compound," one said.

"But this is only her statement and we have not yet corroborated it," the official added. A second security official confirmed the information.

On Sunday night US commandos flew in helicopters to the three-storey home in a suburb of Abbottabad, where they discovered bin Laden on the third floor, shot him dead and flew off with his body, which was later buried at sea.

Al-Qaeda has vowed to avenge the architect of the September 11, 2001 attacks, declaring him a "martyr" and calling on Muslims to rise up against the United States.

But US President Barack Obama swept aside the threats, decorating the team that killed bin Laden and pledging the United States would crush Al-Qaeda.

"We have cut off their head and we will ultimately defeat them," he said after meeting privately with the special forces personnel who took part in the raid.

Confirming bin Laden's death, Al-Qaeda denounced his killing and urged Pakistani Muslims "to cleanse their country from the filth of the Americans who spread corruption in it".

The terror group proclaimed its Saudi-born founder a "martyr" and said he had "terrified all the nations of disbelief". It vowed the jihadist network would survive but did not name anyone to take over as its leader.

The White House said it was on alert for security threats as Al-Qaeda also vowed to release an audio tape made by bin Laden just a week before his death.

Mounting questions have been raised about how bin Laden managed to hide out for so long in Pakistan, in a town which is home to a top military academy and many retired generals.

Former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf blamed the "incompetence" of his country's intelligence services, saying it was "terrible" that bin Laden had been hiding in Pakistan when he was still in office.

But he also criticised the United States for violating Islamabad's sovereignty in carrying out the raid.

In another sign of potential lapses by the Pakistani intelligence services, the Washington Post reported that the CIA maintained a safe house in Abbottabad for several months to spy on bin Laden's compound.

The close-up operation allowed them to draw up the occupants' "pattern of life," the paper said.

Obama on Friday told the elite commando team that carried out the risky helicopter-borne raid that it had been "a job well done" as he handed out Presidential Unit Citations, the highest unit award he has the power to grant.

A day earlier Obama laid a wreath at Ground Zero, the site where the World Trade Center once stood, in a sombre moment aimed at bringing closure to Americans still haunted by the September 11 attacks.

The White House has been apparently eager to avoid triumphalism over the elimination of the world's most wanted man, blamed for the deaths of 3,000 people in the attacks, in a bid to avoid whipping up Muslim anger.

But the administration has been forced to defend the raid's legality after acknowledging that bin Laden was unarmed when he was shot dead, although a US official told AFP the SEALs had found an AK-47 and a pistol in his room.

On the traditional day of Muslim prayers Friday, hundreds of Islamists rallied in Pakistan, Egypt, Turkey and Britain calling for revenge, although there has been no significant outpouring on the streets.

In Abbottabad, where bin Laden was finally tracked down after a years-long manhunt, police marshalled a rally of about 1,000 men.

Setting fire to tyres and blocking a main road, the protesters yelled: "Down, down USA!" and "Terrorist, terrorist, USA terrorist."

Hundreds also took to the streets in the Pakistani city of Quetta calling for holy war against America, while Islamists rallied in Cairo.

Intelligence seized during Monday's operation suggested that despite his isolation bin Laden remained closely involved in Al-Qaeda operations up until his death.

The network had even been mulling strikes on US trains on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, which used highjacked airliners to bring down the twin towers of the World Trade Center, US officials said. AFP




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