Musharraf snubbed Kabul’s ‘Osama in Abbottabad’ lead

Afghan intel believed Osama was hiding in an area close to Abbottabad 4 years ago.

Kabul: Afghan intelligence believed that al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden was hiding in an area close to Abbottabad four years ago, but no action was taken after the lead was furiously rejected by the then Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf, who yelled, “Am I the president of the Republic of Banana?”

As early in 2004, National Directorate of Security (NDS) agents worked out that the world`s most wanted man must be inside Pakistan proper, rather than the semi-autonomous tribal areas, Afghanistan`s former spy chief Amrullah Saleh told the Guardian.

He said that they believed bin Laden must be there, based on "thousands of interrogation reports" and the assumption that Osama- "a millionaire with multiple wives and no background of toughness"- would not be living in a tent.

"I was pretty sure he was in the settled areas of Pakistan because in 2005, it was still very easy to infiltrate the tribal areas, and we had massive numbers of informants there," he said, adding, "They could find any Arab, but not bin Laden."

Their intelligence became more precise in 2007 when they believed bin Laden was hiding in Manshera, a town a short distance from Abbottabad, where the NDS had identified two al Qaeda safe houses, the report said.

But the former spy chief said that Musharraf was outraged at the suggestion that bin Laden was hiding in such a prominent part of the country, the report added.

In a meeting with Musharraf and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the Pakistan president became furious and smashed his fist down on the table.

"He [Musharraf] said: `Am I the president of the Republic of Banana?` Then he turned to President Karzai and said, `Why have you have brought this Panjshiri guy to teach me intelligence?`," Saleh recalled.

He said Karzai had to intervene as Musharraf got increasingly angry and began to physically threaten Saleh.

However, bin Laden, who had evaded capture for a decade, was killed on Sunday night in a top secret operation involving a small team of US Special Forces in Abbottabad city, located 50 kilometres northeast of Islamabad and 150 kilometres east of Peshawar.