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Pakistan frees bin Laden bodyguard

Pakistan recently freed a senior al-Qaida commander who was also an Osama bin Laden bodyguard, raising concerns about the country's commitment to tackling terrorism.
Image: Osama bin Laden
Osama bin Laden, shown in an April 1998 file photo in Afghanistan.AP file
/ Source: staff and news service reports

Pakistan recently freed a senior al-Qaida commander who was also an Osama bin Laden bodyguard, raising concerns about the country's commitment to tackling terrorism, media reports say.

Dr. Amin al Haq was freed several weeks ago because Pakistani officials could not prove his ties to al-Qaida and because he is not in good health, according to an Afghan Islamic Press report cited by other news organizations.

Haq reportedly was detained in Lahore by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency in December 2008, seven years after escaping with bin Laden, the Daily Telegraph of London reported. Haq served as the security coordinator of Osama bin Laden's Black Guard.

ISI passed Haq, 51, to police in Peshawar in northwest Pakistan before his release, a security source told the Telegraph.

"Amin al-Haq had been arrested mistakenly, therefore, the police failed to prove any charge of his association with Osama bin Laden and the court set him free," he told The Daily Telegraph.

Haq, a doctor, was a member of the Hizb-i Islami Khalis (HIK), a key mujahadeen group that helped defeat the Soviets during the 1980s, according to Mother Jones magazine. HIK also helped bring bin Laden to Afghanistan after he was ejected from Sudan in 1996. And Haq himself reportedly accompanied bin Laden in his escape from Tora Bora in 2001, the magazine said.

Terrorism support alleged
Haq's release follows accusations that Pakistan supports terrorism.

Adm. Mike Mullen, outgoing chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, last week described the Haqqani network, the most violent faction among Taliban militants in Afghanistan, as a "veritable arm" of Pakistan's ISI spy agency and accused Islamabad of providing support for the group's September 13 attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that Washington was close to making a decision on whether to designate the Haqqani network as a foreign terrorist group.

"We are in the final, formal review that has to be undertaken to make a government-wide decision to designate the network as a foreign terrorist organization," Clinton told reporters in an appearance with Egypt's visiting foreign minister.

Also Wednesday, the Obama administration designated two members of the Pakistan-based group Lashkar-e-Taiba as terrorists. The action bans Americans from doing business with the men and blocks any assets they have in the United States.

The Treasury Department identified the men as Zafar Iqbal, a senior leader and co-founder of the al-Qaida-linked organization, and Hafiz Abdul Salam Bhuttavi, who it said has served as the LET's emir on two occasions and was in charge of its day-to-day operations at the time of the Mumbai attack in November 2008.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Mullen's allegations were "something which is nothing new to us. In fact when we were the first to flag this issue earlier, the world didn't believe us."

"Turns out they are disloyal, deceptive and a danger to the United States," Republican Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, last week. "We pay them to hate us. Now we pay them to bomb us. Let's not pay them at all."

Pakistan denies the charges.

"We are true friends and we count on each other," Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said in an interview Tuesday.

However, he acknowledged tense relations.

"The negative messaging, naturally that is disturbing my people," Gilani said from his office in Islamabad. "If there is messaging that is not appropriate to our friendship, then naturally it is extremely difficult to convince my public. Therefore they should be sending positive messages."

Rahimullah Yusufzai, a Peshawar-based analyst who has interviewed senior al-Qaida figures including bin Laden, told the Telegraph that Haq's release was a puzzle.

"They could only have released him with the say so of America or if maybe there really was no evidence or he was not that important," he said.