msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 5/5/2011 5:13:09 PM ET 2011-05-05T21:13:09

The United States has no "definitive evidence" that Pakistan knew Osama bin Laden had been living in the compound where a Navy SEALs assault team killed him, but the Pakistanis must now show convincingly their commitment to defeating the al-Qaida terrorist network, a senior Pentagon official said Thursday.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that while the world's most-wanted terrorist had been killed, the threat from al-Qaida and other militant groups remained strong.

    1. AP sources: Raiders knew mission a one-shot deal
    2. Slate: Is bin Laden's 'porn' worse than his terrorism?
    3. SEAL-mania grips US in wake of bin Laden raid
    4. Kerry: US-Pakistan alliance at 'critical moment'
    5. Bin Laden was logged off, but not al-Qaida
    6. US shows off warship that buried bin Laden
    7. NYT: Cities nationwide heighten vigilance on terror
    8. Pakistan threatens to cut NATO's supply line

Michele Flournoy, the top policy aide to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, told reporters that the Pakistani government should, for example, help the U.S. exploit the materials the SEALs collected inside bin Laden's lair during their raid on Monday.

Flournoy was the first Pentagon official to comment on-the-record about the raid. She offered no new details about it, but said it dealt "a very severe blow" to al-Qaida and offers incentive for Pakistan to cooperate more fully in defeating the terrorist network.

"This is a real moment of opportunity for us in terms of making further gains against al-Qaida," she said.

Questions about whether Pakistan knew of bin Laden's whereabouts, and may even have helped hide him, arose immediately after Monday's raid. Flournoy said U.S. officials have pressed Pakistan for more details about the matter.

Story: Pakistan pays US lobbyists to deny it helped bin Laden

"We are still talking with the Pakistanis and trying to understand what they did know, what they didn't know," she said. "We do not have any definitive evidence at this point that they did know that Osama bin Laden was at this compound."

In Islamabad, Pakistan's army on Thursday called for cuts in the number of American military personnel inside the country to protest the raid, and it threatened to cut cooperation with Washington if it stages more unilateral raids on its territory. A small number of U.S. soldiers have been training Pakistani forces in counter-insurgency operations.

Image: United Arab Emirates' Foreign Minister Nahyan speaks with US Secretary of State Clinton before a meeting in Rome
Jacquelyn Martin  /  Pool via Reuters
United Arab Emirates' Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan speaks with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before a meeting in Rome on Thursday. The U.S. relationship with Pakistan is not always easy but has been productive for both sides, Clinton said on Thursday, after the killing of Osama bin Laden raised questions about the alliance.

Flournoy, the undersecretary of defense for policy, said she held previously scheduled talks at the Pentagon on Monday, just hours after the raid was announced, with a Pakistani government delegation. In that session and follow-up talks on Tuesday, Flournoy said she made clear that members of Congress — even those who have been supporters of increased cooperation with Pakistan — will be increasingly skeptical about the wisdom of continuing to provide billions of dollars in U.S. aid.

Pakistan must take "very concrete and visible steps to show their cooperation as a counterterrorism partner," she said, "because I do think that Congress will have to be convinced to sustain both civilian and military assistance to Pakistan." She added that the Obama administration still intends to keep close ties to Pakistan, even as it presses the Pakistanis for more information about bin Laden's presence in Abbottabad, the military garrison town a few dozen miles from Islamabad, the capital.

In a letter to Clinton, Rep. Kay Granger, a Republican and chairwoman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations, called for suspending direct government-to-government assistance to Pakistan.

"My opposition to the program has only been heightened by the discovery of the most notorious terrorist in the world living hundreds of yards from a Pakistani military installation for more than five years. This reinforces my greater concern that the government may be incapable of distributing U.S. funds in a transparent manner that allows proper oversight of taxpayer dollars," Granger wrote.

Sen. Richard Lugar, a Republican and a supporter of U.S. aid to Pakistan, said Thursday it would be self-defeating to walk away from the relationship.

"Distancing ourselves from Pakistan would be unwise and extremely dangerous," he told a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. "It would weaken our intelligence gathering, limit our ability to prevent conflict between India and Pakistan, further complicate military operations in Afghanistan, end cooperation on finding terrorists, and eliminate engagement with Islamabad on the security of its nuclear weapons."

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, took the same view.

"It's not a time to back away from Pakistan," he said. "Frankly, I believe that our aid should continue to Pakistan."

Arrest in Abbottabad
Pakistani officials are pointing to the January arrest — in Abbottabad — of a man on the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorist list as an example of how they've been loyal partners in the war on terror.

Umar Patek, 40, is suspected of being one of the masterminds of Bali Bombings in 2002 that killed more than 200 people, including seven Americans. Patek's arrest was kept quiet until late March. The U.S. had offered a $1 milliion reward for Patek's arrest.

However, U.S. officials firmly denied a claim by Pakistani officials that Patek had provided any evidence that led them to the Bin Laden compound, also in Abbottabad.

"He had nothing to do with this," said an official, referring to the assault on the Bin Laden compound. "You have to understand, the Pakistanis are very embarrassed and looking to take credit whereever they can."

Flournoy predicted that any doubts about bin Laden's death will be erased, even without the U.S. releasing a photo of his corpse.

"In time it will become apparent -- undeniably apparent. I think al-Qaida will recognize that this is in fact the truth (and) and that they will make changes in their own leadership to reflect that truth," she said. "The same people who doubt whether he's dead today would probably look at a photo and doubt whether that's real."

During a meeting of foreign ministers in Rome to discuss the situation in Libya, Clinton said bin Laden's death "sent an unmistakable message about the strength and the resolve of the international community to stand against extremism and those who perpetuate it."

"Let us not forget that the battle to stop al-Qaida and its affiliates does not end with one death," she said. "We have to renew our resolve and redouble our efforts, not only in Afghanistan and Pakistan but around the world.

The possible threat posed by al-Qaida and its affiliated groups was underlined by a story in Britain's The Sun newspaper on Thursday.

The newspaper said it contacted al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP — which is led by Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric based in Yemen — posing as Britons seeking guidance on how to carry out the goals of the terror group in the U.K. Al-Awlaki has been tipped as al-Qaida's new leader.

"The options that you have for operations could be pipe bombs, assassinations or using a firearm at a location crowded with enemies," the reply said, according to The Sun.

The newspaper said the message was signed "Your brothers at al-Qaida of the Arabian Peninsula" and took several weeks to reach its account.

Slate: Myth of bin Laden in life and death

Emulating Mumbai?
The recommended approach outlined in The Sun article called on potential al-Qaida recruits to emulate the militant operation carried out in Mumbai in 2008, in which gunmen besieged the Indian city and killed 166 people, including six Americans.

In 2010, top U.S. counterterrorism officials flagged the emerging threat posed by Mumbai-style attacks , noting that al-Qaida and those inspired by it were looking to the new approach to both carry out attacks more quickly and help them stay under the radar by keeping the plans on a smaller scale.

The email The Sun said it received also advised the undercover advice-seeker to work alone unless there was a "group of brothers" who could trust each other.

Slideshow: After the raid: Inside bin Laden's compound (on this page)

"We would also suggest that if you have decided to go ahead do not contact us because this may bring surveillance on you," the newspaper quoted the email as saying.

"However, right before you start your operation you may send us a message informing us of the operation without mentioning the details. This is of course if you want us to sponsor the operation," the email reportedly continued.

Story: Plenty of al-Qaida targets remain after Osama bin Laden's death

Though bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, would now be the top-ranking leader in al-Qaida, a senior U.S. official told NBC News that he is not necessarily the first choice move into the spot vacated by bin Laden's death.

The organization could instead look to a figure like al-Awlaki. U.S. investigators have found that he communicated with the army major who allegedly went on a 2009 shooting spree at Fort Hood in Texas and that he instructed the Nigerian man suspected of trying to blow up a U.S. airliner on Christmas Day of that year.

    1. AP sources: Raiders knew mission a one-shot deal
    2. Slate: Is bin Laden's 'porn' worse than his terrorism?
    3. SEAL-mania grips US in wake of bin Laden raid
    4. Kerry: US-Pakistan alliance at 'critical moment'
    5. Bin Laden was logged off, but not al-Qaida
    6. US shows off warship that buried bin Laden
    7. NYT: Cities nationwide heighten vigilance on terror
    8. Pakistan threatens to cut NATO's supply line

Small, cheap attacks
Awlaki has been an influential propagandist among English-speaking militants due to his prolific output of audio and video talks. The Obama administration in 2010 authorized the CIA to capture or kill him.

AQAP, formed from the 2009 merger of the group's Yemeni and Saudi wings, has vowed to bleed U.S. resources with small, cheap attacks that force the West to spend billions of dollars to guard against.

Video: Curious neighbors peer into bin Laden compound

Underscoring the threat posed by the group's operation in Yemen, the country's defense ministry announced that two mid-level al-Qaida leaders were killed there Thursday.

The Yemeni defense ministry identified the men as two brothers, Musa'id and Abdullah Mubarak, and said they were killed at around dawn in the remote province of Shabwa, where a Yemen-based wing of al-Qaida is active.

Video: US official: American could become al-Qaida leader

It was not yet clear who carried out the attack and why they were targeted, but some nearby residents said they saw a drone in the air at the time of the killing while others reported seeing a rocket followed by an explosion on the ground.

Yemen, a U.S. ally against al-Qaida, declared open war on AQAP in January 2010, stepping up airstrikes in which civilians as well as militants were killed.

A U.S. diplomatic cable leaked in November said the United States was carrying out air raids on al-Qaida targets in Yemen, and that President Ali Abdullah Saleh agreed to conceal this from the public.

Saleh is an important U.S. ally but faces violent protests demanding his removal.

The conflict has put CIA and military counterterrorism operations on ice, officials said, leading to fears that the increasingly sophisticated terrorist group will grow even stronger.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: US-Pakistan tension erupts in open

  1. Closed captioning of: US-Pakistan tension erupts in open

    >> let's go to pakistan , to the scene of the raid where because of the raid and how it was carried out, strains are now evident with the united states . ann curry is on the ground at the bin laden compound. good evening.

    >> reporter: hey, good evening to you, brian. tonight, pakistan is reeling, on the defensive, embarrassed, for the first time, publicly angry about the way the u.s. took down osama bin laden . today, as security was tightened around osama bin laden 's compound, a fury was unleashed from the most powerful man in pakistan , army chief general kiana who called sunday's raid a misadventure, warning in a memo that any similar action against pakistan would jeopardize the level of military cooperation with the united states .

    >> the pakistani military has come out defensively with respect to this entire affair because they don't have any good options. either they look like they were complicit in the behavior of the world's most notorious terrorist, or they look like their incompetent.

    >> today, they called the humil humiliation real, saying pakistan 's intelligence was caught, kwoetd, with its pants down. do you expect the world to believe that the intelligence services , the security services of pakistan are so incompetent they did not know osama bin laden was living 35 miles from islamabad.

    >> yeah, this is a small town. they can make slips. they did make a slip.

    >> reporter: also today, pakistan 's foreign secretary directly took on sususpicions that pakistan harbored osama bin laden .

    >> this is a false hypothesis. this is a false charge.

    >> reporter: a public relations offensive of a country desperate not to lose its more than $1.5 billion a year in u.s. aid . while at the same time, dealing with the wounded pride of its own people. many of whom refuse to believe osama bin laden was even killed here.

    >> we are not stupid. america, we are not stupid. we know everything, what's going on.

    >> reporter: today, hillary clinton acknowledged relations between pakistan and the united states are not always easy, but that cooperation will continue because it produces results. brian.

    >> ann curry reporting on the ground in pakistan where it's getting interesting now between the two countries.

Photos: The compound

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  1. Pakistani boys while demolition takes place on the compound where Osama bin Laden was slain in 2011 in the northwestern town of Abbottabad on Feb. 26, 2012.

    More photos from Abbottabad one year after Osama bin Laden (Aamir Qureshi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. An aerial view shows the residential area of Abbottabad, Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden was found and killed by U.S. commandos. (Asif Hassan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A general view of the town of Abbottabad, May 6. Bin Laden was living in a large house close to a military academy in this garrison town, a two-and-a-half hour-drive from the capital, Islamabad. (Khaqan Khawer / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Supporters of Pakistani religious party Jamaat-e-Islami rally to condemn the killing of bin Laden, in Abbottabad on May 6. (Aqeel Ahmed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A Pakistani woman photographs her daughter on May , at a gate of the compound where bin Laden was caught and killed. (Aqeel Ahmed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. School girls pass by armed Pakistani policemen guarding the sealed entrance to the compound in Abbottabad, May 5, in which bin Laden had been living. (MD Nadeem / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Part of a damaged helicopter rests in the compound after U.S. Navy SEAL commandos killed bin Laden, May 2, in a photo made available on May 4. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Boys herd sheep past the compound where U.S. Navy SEAL commandos killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad May 5. (Akhtar Soomro / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Pakistani security officials arrive at the Osama bin Laden compound in Abbottabad on Wednesday, May 4. (Aamir Qureshi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Local residents gather outside a burned section of bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad. (Aamir Qureshi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A Pakistani police officer gestures at a checkpoint along a road leading to a house where bin Laden was captured and killed in Abbottabad. Area residents were still confused and suspicious about bin Laden's death, which took place before dawn on Monday. (Anjum Naveed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Pakistani children look out from a high vantage point at bin Laden's compound on Tuesday, May 3. (Aqeel Ahmed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Pakistan army troops remove canvas screens from outside the compound's house. (Anjum Naveed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Neighbors and news media gather around the compound, right, after authorities ease security around the property. (Aqeel Ahmed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. A satellite image, taken June 15, 2005, shows the Abbottabad compound, center, where bin Laden was killed in on Monday. (DigitalGlobe via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. A Pakistani soldier secures the compound. (T. Mughal / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. The compound is seen in flames after it was attacked early May 2 in this still image taken from cellphone video footage. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Part of a damaged U.S. MH-60 helicopter lies the compound. The helicopter was destroyed by U.S. forces after a mechanical failure left it unable to take off. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A still image from video obtained by ABC News shows blood stains in the interior of the house where bin Laden was killed. (ABC News via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Aerial views released by the Department of Defense show the area in Abbottabad in 2004, left, before the house was built, and in 2011, right. (Department of Defense via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. A graphic released by the Department of Defense shows the compound where bin Laden was killed. (Department of Defense via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Pakistani soldiers and police officers patrol near the house, background, where bin Laden had lived. (Anjum Naveed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. The hideout of bin Laden is seen the day after his death. (Farooq Naeem / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Students look toward the compound from a nearby religious school in Abbottabad. (Faisal Mahmood / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Pakistani security officials survey the walls of the compound where bin Laden was killed. The outer walls were between 10 and 18 feet high. (MD Nadeem / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Pakistani soldiers stand guard near the compound May 2. (Anjum Naveed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Boys collect pieces of metal from a wheat field outside bin Laden's house, seen in the background, on May 3. People showed off small parts of what appeared to be a U.S. helicopter that the U.S. says malfunctioned and was blown up by the American team as it retreated. (Anjum Naveed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Pakistani security officials stand guard at the main entrance to the compound on May 3. (MD Nadeem / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. An image from video seized from the walled compound of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, and released by the U.S. Department of Defense, shows Osama bin Laden watching TV. He is said to have spent his last weeks in a house divided, amid wives riven by suspicions. On the top floor, sharing his bedroom, was his youngest wife and favorite. The trouble came when his eldest wife showed up and moved into the bedroom on the floor below. (Department of Defense via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image:
    Aamir Qureshi / AFP - Getty Images
    Above: Slideshow (29) After the raid: Inside bin Laden's compound - The compound
  2. Image:
    Timothy A. Clary / AFP - Getty Images
    Slideshow (81) After the raid: Inside bin Laden's compound - World reaction
  3. Image:
    Timothy A. Clary / AFP - Getty Images
    Slideshow (81) World reacts to death of Osama bin Laden - World reaction
  4. Image:
    Aamir Qureshi / AFP - Getty Images
    Slideshow (29) World reacts to death of Osama bin Laden - The compound
  5. Image: Protest against US drone strikes in Pakistan
    Shahzaib Akber / EPA
    Slideshow (154) Pakistan: A nation in turmoil - 2013
  6. Image: PAKISTAN-NEW YEAR
    Arif Ali / AFP - Getty Images
    Slideshow (160) Pakistan: A nation in turmoil - 2012
  1. Image: A man, injured from the site of a bomb explosion, is brought to a hospital for treatment in Quetta
    Naseer Ahmed / Reuters
    Slideshow (193) Pakistan: A nation in turmoil - 2011
  2. Image: Supporters of various religious parties take a part in a rally in support of the Pakistani blasphemy law in Karachi
    Athar Hussain / Reuters
    Slideshow (123) Pakistan: A nation in turmoil - 2010
  3. Image: Activists of Pakistani Islamist organisa
    Tariq Mahmood / AFP - Getty Images
    Slideshow (56) Pakistan: A nation in turmoil - 2009

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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