Washington, May 3: The United States today made it clear it cannot believe that slain terrorist Osama bin Laden had no support system in Pakistan and hinted of probing any "official links", while several top lawmakers accused Islamabad of playing a "double-game".
"It's inconceivable that bin Laden did not have a support system in the country that allowed him to remain there for an extended period of time," Deputy National Security Advisor for Counter-terrorism and Homeland Security John Brennan told reporters.
"I am not going to speculate about what type of support he might have had on an official basis inside of Pakistan," he said.
His remarks came a day after bin Laden was shot dead yesterday in a pre-dawn helicopter-borne secret US operation in a house just yards away from Pakistan's Military Academy in Abbottabad near Islamabad, raising questions whether the establishment knowingly harboured him.
Brennan said the fact that bin Laden was found so close to the capital "raises questions".
"There are a lot of people within the Pakistani government, and I'm not going to speculate about who or if any of them had fore-knowledge about bin Laden being in Abbottabad. But certainly his location there outside of the capital raises questions. We are talking to the Pakistanis about this," he said.
"We are leaving open opportunities to continue to pursue whatever leads might be out there," Brennan said
responding to questions on how the most wanted terrorist was found in one of the most affluent neighborhoods of Islamabad, which is residences of top retired military officials.
"People have been referring to this as hiding in plain sight. Clearly, this was something that was considered as a possibility. Pakistan is a large country. We are looking right now at how he was able to hold out there for so long and whether or not there was any type of support system within Pakistan that allowed him to stay there," Brennan said.
"We're going to pursue all leads to find out exactly what type of support system and benefactors that bin Laden might have had," he said.
Brennan said following the conclusion of the successful operation, a number of senior US officials are in regular contact now with their Pakistani counterparts.
"We are continuing to engage with them. We're engaging with them today as we learn more about the compound and whatever type of support system bin Laden had."
"But they, at least in our discussions with them, seem as surprised as we were initially that bin Laden was holding out in that area," he added.
Top US lawmakers accused Pakistan of playing a "double-game" with the US on the war against terror and raised suspicion that its spy agency ISI was knowing about bin Laden's presence in Abbottabad.
The killing of the al-Qaeda chief at a one-million dollar hideout just 120 km away from Islamabad shows that Pakistan remains a critical but "uncertain ally" in the fight against terrorism, Senator Susan Collins said.
"It's very difficult for me to understand how this huge compound could be built in a city just an hour north of the capital of Pakistan, in a city that contained military installations, including the Pakistani military academy," Collins said.
"So I think this tells us once again that unfortunately Pakistan at times is playing a double game, and that's very troubling to me," she told reporters.
The Senator said US needs to need to keep the pressure on Pakistan and for that it should put "more strings attached to the tremendous amount of military aid that we give the country."
Senator Joe Lieberman said there are going to be a lot of questions raised here in the Congress about what people in the Pakistani intelligence agency particularly knew or should have known about the presence of bin Laden in Pakistan.
"For years, you know, the Pakistani officials have said to us he's not in Pakistan; he's in the mountains in Waziristan between Pakistan and Afghanistan."
He said: "We have a lot of reason to believe that elements of their intelligence community continue to be very closely in touch with and perhaps supportive of terrorist groups that are fighting us and the Afghans in Afghanistan."
Lieberman said it will be a "real pressure" on Pakistan to prove they did not know bin Laden's presence.
Senator Carl Levin, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the army and the intelligence of Pakistan have plenty of questions that they should be answering, and hopefully they are being asked by the Pakistani government.
"I think that the Pakistani army and intelligence have a lot of questions to answer, given the location, the length of time and the apparent fact that this facility was actually built for bin Laden, and its closeness to the central location of the Pakistani army," Levin said.
Senator Frank Lautenberg demanded suspension USD 3 billion aid to Pakistan, until the country answers how bin Laden was able to live so close to Islamabad and proves it stands by the US in war against terror.
"The ability of Osama bin Laden to live in a compound so close to Pakistan's capital is astounding - and we need to understand who knew his location, when they knew it, and whether Pakistani officials were helping to protect him," he said.
"The United States provides billions of dollars in aid to Pakistan. Before we send another dime, we need to know whether Pakistan truly stands with us in the fight against terrorism. Until Congress and the American public are assured that the Pakistani government is not shielding terrorists, financial aid to Pakistan should be suspended," he added. PTI