ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Al Qaeda confirmed on Friday that Osama bin Laden was dead, dispelling doubts by some Muslims the group’s leader had really been killed by U.S. forces, and vowed to mount more attacks on the West.
The announcement by the Islamist militant organization, which promised to publish a taped message from bin Laden soon, appeared intended to show its adherents around the globe the group had survived as a functioning network.
In a statement online, it said the blood of bin Laden, shot to death by a U.S. commando team in a raid on Monday on his hide-out in a Pakistani town, ”is more precious to us and to every Muslim than to be wasted in vain.
“It will remain, with permission from Allah the Almighty, a curse that hunts the Americans and their collaborators and chases them inside and outside their country.”
Al Qaeda urged Pakistanis to rise up against their government to “cleanse” the country of what it called the shame brought on it by bin Laden’s shooting and of the “filth of the Americans who spread corruption in it.”
The statement also warned Americans not to harm bin Laden’s corpse and to hand it and those of others killed to their families, although U.S. officials say bin Laden’s body has been buried at sea and no others were taken from the compound.
Some in the Muslim world have been skeptical of bin Laden’s death. One survey conducted in Pakistan this week by the British-based YouGov polling organization found that 66 percent of over 1,000 respondents did not think the person killed by U.S. Navy SEALs was bin Laden.
Before Friday prayers at a mosque in Paris, one man who declined to give his name said: “This whole story is a myth. They invented it to distract Americans from real problems over there, like the economy and gas prices.”
But U.S. President Barack Obama continued to bask in public approval for the killing of bin Laden. He flew to a military base at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, on Friday to thank special forces involved in the raid.
“This has been an extraordinary week for our nation,” Obama told a jubilant audience of troops. “The terrorist leader who struck our nation on September 11 will never threaten our nation again.” But he warned that “this continues to be a very tough fight.”
Anger and suspicion between Washington and Islamabad over the raid in Abbottabad, 30 miles from the Pakistani capital, showed no sign of abating.
A U.S. drone killed 17 suspected militants in northwest Pakistan, despite warnings from the Pakistani military against the mounting of attacks within its borders.
About 1,500 Islamists rallied in the southwestern city of Quetta to vow revenge for bin Laden’s death and there were small protests elsewhere. Afghan Taliban and Islamist Indonesian youths made similar threats.
A Taliban spokesman said the group “believes the martyrdom of Sheikh Osama bin Laden will give a new impetus to the current jihad against the invaders.” Bin Laden lived for years in Afghanistan and is thought to have plotted the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States from there.
One of bin Laden’s wives, Amal Ahmed Abdulfattah, told Pakistani interrogators the al Qaeda leader had been living for five years in the compound where he was killed, a Pakistani security official told Reuters.
The disclosure appeared sure to heighten U.S. suspicions that Pakistani authorities had been either grossly incompetent or playing a double game in the hunt for bin Laden and the two countries’ supposed partnership against violent Islamists.
Pakistani security forces took 15 or 16 people into custody from the Abbottabad compound after U.S. forces removed bin Laden’s body, said the security official. They included bin Laden’s three wives and several children.
In Washington, a U.S. official said U.S. intelligence had established on-the-ground surveillance in Abbottabad in advance of the raid.
U.S. officials also said among materials found at bin Laden’s hide-out was evidence indicating al Qaeda at one point considered attacking the U.S. rail system on the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks later this year.
Officials said evidence analyzed so far indicated bin Laden was still involved in directing al Qaeda’s activities, even though he had largely avoided the public spotlight for years.
The fact that bin Laden was found in a garrison town -- his compound was not far from a military academy -- has embarrassed Pakistan and the covert raid has angered its military.
Pressure is building in the U.S. Congress to suspend or at least review U.S. aid to Pakistan.
The Pakistan army, for its part, threatened on Thursday to halt counterterrorism cooperation with the United States if it conducted any more similar raids.
It was unclear if such attacks included drone strikes the U.S. military conducts regularly against militants along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.
Pakistani security officials have charged that U.S. troops, after landing by helicopter, shot the unarmed al Qaeda leader in cold blood rather than in a firefight, as U.S. officials first suggested.
Amid differing accounts this week of how much hostile fire the SEALs encountered in the compound, one Pakistani security official said on Friday that U.S. forces should release video footage he said they “must have” of the operation.
U.N. human rights investigators called on the United States to disclose the full facts ”to allow an assessment in terms of international human rights law standards.
The Pakistani military also said on Thursday it had decided to reduce the U.S. military presence in the country.
In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Colonel David Lapan said the Defense Department had not received notice from Islamabad about any decision to change the size of the U.S. military contingent in Pakistan. He said there were a little under 300 U.S. military personnel in Pakistan, many of them trainers.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the relationship was “complex” but pointed to Pakistan’s effort against the Taliban and al Qaeda in its own tribal areas and the use of its territory as a U.S. supply route.
“At the same time, there’s no question they hedge their bets,” said Gates, fielding questions from service members at an Air Force base in North Carolina. “Their view is that we have abandoned them four times in the last 45 years. And they’re not sure we’re going to stay in the region.”
“So we just have to keep working at it, on both sides,” he added.
Additional reporting by Erika Solomon in Dubai, Michael Georgy in Islamabad, Matt Spetalnick in Kentucky and David Alexander, Susan Cornwell and Mark Hosenball in Washington; writing by Andrew Roche and Patrick Worsnip; Editing by Peter Cooney