A MOBILE phone used by Osama bin Laden’s courier appears to show he was aided by Pakistani militants linked to the country’s spy agency.
Calls were traced to Harakat-ul-Mujaheddin, a militant group linked to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, The New York Times reported yesterday, citing US officials briefed on an investigation into the phone.
US officials said the mobile phone showed the group’s commanders had called Pakistani intelligence officials.
The newspaper cited one US official who said the two parties had met.
“It’s a serious lead,” one US official was quoted as saying. “It’s an avenue we’re investigating.”
Another US official said the link was not a “smoking gun” that definitively linked bin Laden to the ISI, as it was unclear whether any calls were related to him.
The phone was seized during a US commando raid in Pakistan early last month in which the
al-Qa’ida chief and his courier were killed.
A Pakistani intelligence official said the ISI did not have the phone records and joked that “anybody can have contacts on his phone”.
Beyond that, the official declined to comment on the New York Times story or provide any information on the nature of the relationship between Harakat-ul-Mujaheddin and the ISI.
The Islamist militant group, which features on US and UN terror blacklists, is based in Pakistan, but operates primarily against Indian targets in Kashmir.
According to the group’s website, it was founded in 1985 during the jihad to expel Soviet troops from neighbouring Afghanistan.
Like the Pakistani government, it became an ally of the Taliban, which took power in 1996.
HUM was officially banned in Pakistan in 2002.
Reportedly under pressure from the Pakistani government, its long-time leader Fazlur Rehman Khalil stepped down in January 2005.
Khalil has been linked to the late al-Qa’ida leader, and his signature was found on bin Laden’s February 1998 fatwa calling for attacks on US and Western interests.
Relations between Pakistan and the US, tense at the best of times, deteriorated sharply over the bin Laden raid, which humiliated the Pakistani military and invited allegations of incompetence and complicity.
As US President Barack Obama seeks to bring an end to the war in Pakistan’s neighbour Afghanistan, US and Pakistani officials have sought to play down any unease between them.