Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Investigators probe seized computers to thwart al Qaeda plots

Abbottabad, Pakistan (CNN) -- The trove of materials collected from the compound in which Osama bin Laden was killed includes 10 hard drives, five computers and more than 100 storage devices, a senior U.S. official told CNN Tuesday -- material that investigators hope will yield clues to help break the al Qaeda network and thwart future terrorist attacks.

Among the storage devices are disks, DVDs and thumb drives, the source said.

"We were on the compound for about 40 minutes and we were able to acquire some material that was there. A lot of that is currently being exploited and reviewed," the White House senior adviser on counterterrorism, John Brennan, told CNN Tuesday.

"What we're most interested in is seeing if we can get any insight into any terrorist plot that might be under way so we can take the measures to stop any type of attack planning. Secondly, we're trying to look and see whether or not there are leads to other individuals within the organization or insights into their capabilities."

A senior Pakistani intelligence official said people left behind at the compound told the intelligence services that the United States took one person from the compound in addition to the body of bin Laden. "There is no way to confirm who they took. It was bin Laden plus one," the source said.

But U.S. officials have indicated otherwise.

Details from inside bin Laden's compound

Bin Laden's compound

Investigations under way in Abbottabad

Sifting through bin Laden's records
Osama bin Laden
Guantanamo Bay
"There were several women and children on the compound. One woman, who was used as a human shield by one of the four military-age males on the compound, was killed; he was firing behind her. Two women, including one with Osama bin Laden, were wounded. And the rest were not injured at all. The noncombatants were moved to a safe location at the end of the operation, as the damaged helicopter was detonated, to ensure their safety," a senior defense official said Monday.

Asked where they are now, the official responded, "They were left on the compound."

The senior Pakistani intelligence official told CNN Tuesday that there were 17 to 18 people in the compound during the raid, including four or five men, who were brothers and a son; two to three women and a daughter; and eight to nine kids.

The search for bin Laden finally ended in early Monday's firefight, months before the 10-year anniversary of the al Qaeda network's most notorious act, the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

Pakistan's GEO TV showed video Tuesday of the inside of the compound where the al Qaeda leader was living. Bottles of what appeared to be medicine, a pair of slippers, a shelf full of books and a passport of a Yemeni woman are among the items the network showed. Parts of the video showed items strewn about a stained floor, possibly the aftermath of the firefight.

Anything collected from the scene -- from documents to seemingly mundane items -- has the potential to lead investigators to other senior al Qaeda leadership.

U.S. officials say several people were killed inside the home in Abbottabad, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of Islamabad. There also were some children in the home, who are now in Pakistani custody, a senior Pakistani intelligence source said.

Officials have not publicly identified every person in the compound.

The United States might release a photo taken of bin Laden after he was killed. A senior government official involved in the discussions told CNN Tuesday that a photo release "could" come Tuesday via the CIA. There are "a lot to choose from," and most are "very graphic," the official said.

A government official familiar with intelligence matters said there is "growing consensus" to release the photo but emphasizes, "it isn't unanimous and everyone has understandable hesitation."

Both officials said the CIA has been tasked with coming up with the best possibilities, and the White House will make the call.

U.S. officials have said DNA matching shows bin Laden was killed.

The Taliban, meanwhile, sought to cast doubt on whether bin Laden is dead. "Obama has not got any strong evidence that can prove his claim over killing of the Sheikh Osama bin Laden," Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mojahed said. "And secondly, the closest sources for Sheikh Osama bin Laden have not confirmed" the death, he added.

The Pakistani foreign ministry, meanwhile, issued a statement Tuesday saying that members of bin Laden's family are "in safe hands and being looked after in accordance with law. Some of them needing medical care are under treatment in the best possible facilities. As per policy, they will be handed over to their countries of origin."

The jubilation in many parts of the world over bin Laden's killing gave way Tuesday to increasing questions about how the world's most wanted terrorist could have hidden for years in a populated area so close to the Pakistani military. The prestigious Kakul military academy, the West Point of Pakistan, is only a couple of miles away.

"How did bin Laden stay at that compound for about six years or so and be undetected?" Brennan asked. "What type of support did he have outside of that compound in the Abbottabad area or more broadly within Pakistan? We're going to look carefully at this and get to the bottom of it all."

The U.S. mission early Monday took place in secrecy, without Pakistani leadership being informed, U.S. officials said.

But Brennan insisted that "Pakistan has been a strong partner in the effort to destroy al Qaeda."

"More al Qaeda and other terrorists have been captured and killed in Pakistan than in any other country since 9/11," he said. "Many brave Pakistanis have given their lives in this effort against the scourge of al Qaeda. So although we may sometimes have differences of view about how this effort should be prosecuted, we are partners with Pakistan, and we'll continue to be. We appreciate their understanding that we undertook this mission. They congratulated us and we are ready to move forward with them."

In a Washington Post column, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari wrote that Pakistan joined other victims of al Qaeda and is pleased "that the source of the greatest evil of the new millennium has been silenced, and his victims given justice."

"Some in the U.S. press have suggested that Pakistan lacked vitality in its pursuit of terrorism, or worse yet that we were disingenuous and actually protected the terrorists we claimed to be pursuing. Such baseless speculation may make exciting cable news, but it doesn't reflect fact," Zardari wrote.

In its statement Tuesday, Pakistan's foreign ministry said, "Abbottabad and the surrounding areas have been under sharp focus of intelligence agencies since 2003 resulting in highly technical operation by (the Pakistani intelligence) ISI which led to the arrest of (a) high value al Qaeda target in 2004. As far as the target compound is concerned, ISI had been sharing information with CIA and other friendly intelligence agencies since 2009."

Pakistani intelligence helped the United States find bin laden, the statement said.

The ministry called bin Laden's death "an important milestone in the fight against terrorism," but also expressed "deep concerns and reservations on the manner in which the government of the United States carried out this operation without prior information or authorization from the government of Pakistan."

"This event of unauthorized unilateral action cannot be taken as a rule. The government of Pakistan further affirms that such an event shall not serve as a future precedent for any state, including the U.S. Such actions undermine cooperation and may also sometime constitute (a) threat to international peace and security," the statement added.

The senior Pakistani intelligence official who spoke to CNN Tuesday said, "Yes we did fail to locate him. Yes, we are embarrassed. But that does not mean we are incompetent and straddling the fence." He added that Pakistani intelligence would have loved to capture bin Laden and hand him over to the United States to silence the critics. But, he said, he is "not being apologetic."

The compound where bin Laden was holed up was surrounded by walls 10 to 18 feet tall and topped by barbed wire. It sat far back from a main road and was relatively secluded. The building showed very little damage on the outside.

A neighbor said Tuesday he was stunned to learn that he lived near bin Laden.

The neighbor said if local children kicked a ball into the compound, someone from inside would pay the children for the ball rather than let them step onto the grounds.

In the wake of bin Laden's killing, U.S. officials warned that the al Qaeda leader's followers and supporters may threaten reprisal attacks. Already, one threat of revenge has surfaced.

"We are proud on the martyrdom of Osama," Ahsan Ullah Ahsan, spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban organization Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), said late Monday night. "We shall definitely take revenge (on) America."

Asked how the Pakistani Taliban organization would carry out its vow, Ahsan said, "We already have our people in America, and we are sending more there."

Just how al Qaeda and the organizations around the world that follow its ideology will be affected by bin Laden's death remains in question as well. "Leadership in al Qaeda tends to be replaced," former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Tuesday in an interview with CNN. "I expect there will be someone who will step up."

Rumsfeld, who was in office during the September 11 attacks, also took the opportunity to praise Bush administration policies that came under heated criticism.

Noting that tracking one of bin Laden's trusted couriers led the United States to bin Laden's location, Rumsfeld said, "I remember back when people were saying at Guantanamo Bay we were keeping low-level people who shouldn't have been there as detainees. They were people who were drivers or chauffeurs or couriers or bodyguards. They weren't the senior-level people. It is those individuals that know the habits and locations of the senior people. It is a good thing that the people were held and that there were interrogations and that that information was patched together over a period of time."

Monday's raid came about four years after U.S. intelligence officials identified the courier, according to senior Obama administration officials.

Rumsfeld also stood by the controversial use of waterboarding, which the Obama administration has outlawed as torture. Rumsfeld said the information taken from three people who were waterboarded and passed on to then-CIA Director Michael Hayden proved to be "enormously valuable."

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also offered praise to both the Bush and Obama administrations, saying the process that led to the killing "started a long time ago," and that Obama and his team deserve credit for finally bringing it "to a close."

While Pakistan is "an important counterterror partner," she said, "this is a time when Pakistan has got to look in the mirror and ask some hard questions."

Obama plans to visit New York on Thursday to meet with families of those killed in the attacks and to visit the World Trade Center site, now being rebuilt but still widely known as ground zero.

The 9/11 attacks prompted a U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in pursuit of al Qaeda and its allies in the Taliban, the fundamentalist Islamic militia that ruled most of the country at the time.

"I hope now the world (has) realized that Afghanistan was not a haven for al Qaeda, but it was in Pakistan -- and that has always been pointed out by Afghans," Fatima Aziz, an Afghan parliament member, said Tuesday.

Bin Laden was the son of a prominent Saudi construction magnate. He turned against the Saudi monarchy when it agreed to allow U.S. troops into the kingdom during the 1991 Persian Gulf war and launched his jihad against the United States in 1997.

He had been implicated in a series of deadly, high-profile attacks that had grown in their intensity and success during the 1990s. They included a deadly firefight with U.S. soldiers in Somalia in October 1993, the bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa that killed 224 in August 1998, and a bomb attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 sailors in October 2000.

Source: CNN's Nic Robertson, Nick Paton Walsh, Elise Labott, Mary Snow, Allan Chernoff, Jeanne Meserve, Pam Benson, Brian Todd, Barbara Starr, Suzanne Kelly, Jessica Yellin and John King contributed to this report.

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