Contradictions emerge in accounts of Pakistan raid

AP News
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Posted: May 24, 2011 5:17 AM
Contradictions emerge in accounts of Pakistan raid

A police account released Tuesday on the brazen, 18-hour Taliban assault on a Pakistani naval base says there were twice as many attackers as the number claimed by the government and navy, adding to the questions surrounding the deadly incident.

The attack Sunday in the port city of Karachi humiliated Pakistan's powerful military establishment and raised concerns about Islamist extremist infiltration of security services as well as the safety of the country's nuclear warheads. The Pakistani Taliban said they staged the raid to avenge the May 2 killing of Osama bin Laden.

The militants destroyed two U.S.-supplied surveillance aircraft and killed 10 people on the base.

On Monday, after commandos had retaken control of Naval Station Mehran, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said up to six assailants were involved, four of whom were killed and two of whom apparently fled. Although they had earlier estimated the number of militants at between 10 and 15, naval officials also revised their estimate to six attackers.

But police said Tuesday in the "first information report" that between 10 to 12 attackers were involved. Local police chief Shahrukh Khan said the report was written after consultation with a navy officer. Such a report is a formal part of opening an investigation into the attack.

A navy spokesman said he was looking into the discrepancy.

Many analysts were surprised that just six attackers could occupy part of the base for such a long time against a force of hundreds of commandos and navy marines. Pakistan security agencies are known to sometimes not give full accounts of terrorism incidents, and often hold suspects for months without informing the public.

The fact that the attackers managed to infiltrate so deep into the high-security base led to speculation they may have had inside information or assistance.

The military is Pakistan's most powerful institution, but it too has been infected by the anti-Americanism and Islamism coursing through the country over the last 10 years, especially in its lower ranks.

The unilateral U.S. raid against bin Laden exacerbated this anger among many soldiers, who saw it as a violation of sovereignty as well as a sign that Pakistani authorities could not be trusted.

The raid also revived international concerns over whether country's estimated 100 nuclear weapons were safe from extremists. During a news conference Tuesday in Kabul, NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen acknowledged the ongoing concerns about the safety of Pakistan's nuclear weapons.

"Based on the information and intelligence we have, I feel confident that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is safe and well protected," Rasmussen said. "But of course, it is a matter of concern and we follow the situation closely."

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Associated Press writer Amir Shah contributed from Kabul, Afghanistan.