Category Archives: World

Israel deploys “Star Wars” missile killer system

JERUSALEM: Israel’s upgraded ballistic missile shield became operational on Wednesday, in a “Star Wars”-like extension of its capabilities to outer space where incoming missiles can be safely destroyed.

The Defence Ministry said the US-funded Arrow 3 system, jointly developed by state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries and US firm Boeing Co., was handed over to the Israeli Air Force.

The Arrow 3, together with the Arrow 2, which has been operational since 2000, would “significantly reduce the possibilities of ballistic missiles” hitting Israel, the ministry said in a statement.

The Arrow 2 is designed to intercept projectiles high and low within the atmosphere. Arrow 3 missiles will fly into space, where their warheads detach to become “kamikaze” satellites that track and slam into their targets.

Such high-altitude shoot-downs are meant to safely destroy incoming nuclear, biological or chemical missiles. Israel has frequently voiced concern about a ballistic missile threat posed by its arch-foe, Iran.

The United States has its own system for intercepting ballistic missiles in space, Aegis.

Arrow serves as the top tier of an integrated Israeli shield built up to withstand various potential missile or rocket salvoes. The bottom tier is the already-deployed short-range Iron Dome interceptor, which was used extensively with high success rates in a 2014 Gaza war against Hamas militants.

Another Israeli system called David’s Sling is being developed to shoot down mid-range, lower-altitude missiles, such as those in the arsenal of Iranian-backed Hezbollah, a Lebanese group which last fought a war with Israel in 2006.

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CIA unveils new rules for collecting information on Americans

The Central Intelligence Agency on Wednesday unveiled revised rules for collecting, analyzing and storing information on American citizens, updating the rules for the information age and publishing them in full for the first time.

The guidelines are designed “in a manner that protects the privacy and civil rights of the American people,” CIA General Counsel Caroline Krass told a briefing at the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia.

The new rules were released amid continued public discomfort over the government’s surveillance powers, an issue that gained prominence following revelations in 2013 by former government contractor Edward Snowden that the National Security Agency (NSA) secretly collected the communications data of millions of ordinary Americans.

The guidelines were published two days before President elect-Donald Trump is sworn into office and may be changed by the new administration. Trump has said he favors stronger government surveillance powers, including the monitoring of “certain” mosques in the United States.

The CIA is largely barred from collecting information inside the United States or on U.S. citizens. But a 1980s presidential order provided for discrete exceptions governed by procedures approved by the CIA director and the attorney general.

Known as the “Attorney General Guidelines,” the original rules over time became a “patchwork of policies and procedures” that failed to keep pace with the development of technology that can store massive amounts of digital data, said Krass.

In 2014, legislation gave U.S. intelligence agencies two years to develop procedures limiting the storage of information on U.S. citizens.

The new procedures, under development for years, were signed on Tuesday by CIA Director John Brennan and Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

While the 1982 guidelines were made public two years ago, sections were blacked out. The updated procedures were posted in full for the first time on the CIA’s website on Wednesday.

The updated procedures include what the CIA must do when it clandestinely obtains a computer hard drive holding millions of pages of text, hours of videos and thousands of photos containing information on foreigners and US citizens.

Because extensive time and many analysts are required to assess such large volumes of data, the new rules regulate the handling of material whose intelligence value cannot be promptly evaluated.

They also regulate how such data can be searched and create strict requirements for dealing with unevaluated electronic communications, which must be destroyed no later than five years after the are first examined.

The rules were unveiled a week after civil liberties groups decried new guidelines approved by the Obama administration expanding the NSA’s ability to share communications intercepts with other U.S. intelligence agencies, including the CIA.

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WikiLeaks' Julian Assange retreats from extradition pledge

PARIS: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange retreated from his pledge to accept extradition to the US if Chelsea Manning was granted clemency, arguing via his lawyers that what he was really asking for was an immediate pardon for the ex-Army analyst.

It was only last week that Assange raised eyebrows across the internet when he appeared to offer himself up as a kind of swap for Manning, the former private convicted of leaking the hundreds of thousands of documents that made WikiLeaks a household name.

“If Obama grants Manning clemency Assange will agree to US extradition despite clear unconstitutionality of DoJ case,” WikiLeaks said, apparently referring to the US Department of Justice’s continuing investigation into the radical transparency website.

But when Obama granted clemency to Manning on Tuesday, setting a May release date that lops almost 30 years off her sentence, Assange’s lawyers said it wasn’t enough.

“There’s no question that what President Obama did is not what Assange was seeking,” said Barry Pollack, who represents the WikiLeaks chief in the United States, yesterday. “Mr Assange was saying that Chelsea should never have been prosecuted, never have been sentenced to decades in prison, and should have been released immediately.”

Melinda Taylor, who also represents Assange, agreed, saying in an email that clemency was “far short of what Mr. Assange asked for and what Ms. Manning deserved (which is to be pardoned and freed immediately).”

Neither supplied any evidence that Assange had used the words “immediate” or “pardon” in relation to his extradition offer, but Pollack said it was clear that was what Assange meant, noting that the Australian computer expert had previously pushed for Manning’s pardon.

“Why would he be called for Manning’s release in a few months from now?” Pollack said. “You can parse his tweets any way that you want to parse them. I think his position has been clear throughout.”

Critics of Assange had a field day, accusing him of dishonesty or using Manning’s case to win publicity. “Julian Assange Backpedals on Extradition Promise in Record Time,” read one headline in tech website Gizmodo.

It’s not the first time Assange’s pronouncements in relation to Manning haven’t quite worked out as advertised. In December 2010, journalists revealed that WikiLeaks had failed to honour a pledge to help support Manning’s legal defence fund.

It was only after the story was aired in the media that WikiLeaks paid up, reducing its expected contribution from $ 50,000 to $ 20,000 and then finally to $15,100, according to press accounts at the time.

Even earlier, in June 2010, WikiLeaks said that claims “that we have been sent 260,000 classified US embassy cables are, as far as we can tell, incorrect.”

Four months later, the site began publishing Manning’s huge trove.

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Court denies a request to arrest Samsung's de facto head Lee Jae-yong

SEOUL, South Korea: A Seoul court on Thursday denied a request to arrest one of South Korea’s most powerful men, the heir to the Samsung Electronics juggernaut in a setback to prosecutors investigating an influence-peddling scandal that toppled South Korea’s president.

The Seoul Central District Court said that a judge concluded that there was not enough justification to detain the 48-year-old billionaire Samsung vice chairman, Lee Jae-yong, at this stage.

The announcement, made around 5 a.m. local time, allowed Lee to return home after a long night. He had been waiting for the court’s decision at a detention center south of Seoul for more than 12 hours after a court hearing the previous day.

Samsung said “the merits of this case can now be determined without the need for detention.”

The decision means that Samsung avoids what could have been a stunning fall for the princeling of the country’s richest family, a man groomed to lead South Korea’s most successful company.

It came amid calls for caution from some business groups and newspapers worried that arresting Lee could hurt the economy because of Samsung’s huge role, both economically and psychologically, in the country.

It is not uncommon in South Korea for courts to issue an arrest warrant past midnight for important or contentious cases, said Shin Jae-hwan, a spokesman for the Seoul court. The long deliberation means the judge must have agonized over the decision, he added.

Prosecutors said Lee gave 43 billion won ($36 million) in bribes to President Park Geun-hye and Choi Soon-sil, her confidante, seeking support for a contentious merger. They also suspect him of embezzling and lying under oath during a parliamentary hearing last month.

The court’s decision may hurt prosecutors’ plan to expand the bribery probe to Park.

Prosecutors expressed strong disappointment and said they believe the court’s decision was caused by a difference in legal views on the nature of the allegations against the Samsung heir. Samsung and other companies have said that they felt forced to make donations.

“The court’s rejection of the arrest warrant is very regrettable,” Lee Kyu-chul, a spokesman for a special prosecutors’ team investigating the political scandal, said. “We’ll take measures to continue an investigation unwaveringly,” he said, without elaborating.

Lee has been serving as the de facto head of Samsung since his father suffered a heart attack in 2014. Shortly after the recalls of the Galaxy Note 7 smartphone last year, he joined the board of Samsung Electronics, the group’s crown jewel.

Conglomerates like Samsung, known as chaebol, dominate South Korea’s economy, jobs and investment. Samsung Electronics and its affiliated companies account for about a third of the market value in South Korea’s main stock market.

Civic groups had called for Lee’s arrest as a way to show that all are equal before the law.

Many were infuriated by the allegations that the government had pressured a pension fund, a major investor in Samsung, to help the Lee family’s succession plan. Moon Hyung-pyo, the former health minister was indicted on Monday for allegedly pressuring pension fund officials to support the merger.

Prosecutors said Moon, who now heads the pension fund, acted on behalf of President Park, who ordered him to make sure that the Samsung merger went smoothly. They plan to summon Park to question her about the bribery allegations.

Park has been suspended from her duties since the parliament impeached her in December. She is awaiting the Constitutional Court’s decision on whether her impeachment will be upheld. Choi is on trial for meddling in state affairs.

Educated in South Korea, Japan and the United States, Lee is the crown prince of the country’s richest family, one South Koreans often liken to royalty.

His father is South Korea’s richest individual whose net worth is estimated at $14.8 billion by Forbes Magazine. The younger Lee’s net worth is estimated at $5.8 billion.

The elder Lee was convicted twice on bribery, embezzlement and other charges in 1996 and 2008, but he was never imprisoned. He received suspended jail terms and was later pardoned by the country’s presidents both times.

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Barack Obama's parting message: We're going to be OK

WASHINGTON: In the final minutes of his final presidential news conference, Barack Obama insisted he’s not just tossing out reassuring platitudes about the nation’s future. It’s what he really believes.

“This is not just a matter of no-drama Obama,” he said. “It is true that behind closed doors I curse more than I do publicly. And sometimes I get mad and frustrated like everybody else does. But at my core, I think we’re going to be OK.”

It is what he chose as the parting message for what is most likely his last extended remarks as president.

Processing the November election results in an intensely personal frame, Obama spoke at length about how his daughters, Sasha and Malia, felt about Donald Trump‘s election.

“They don’t mope,” he said, a noteworthy comment to come from any parent of teenage girls.

He said they were disappointed, but also resilient.

“We’ve tried to teach them hope,” Obama said. “The only thing that is the end of the world is the end of the world.”

This, then, is not the end of the world.

“You get knocked down, you get up, you brush yourself off and you get back to work,” he said. “That tended to be their attitude.”

That said, the outgoing president allowed, neither of his daughters is interested in going into politics.

In that, he added with a grin, “I think their mother’s influence shows.”

He cast his daughters as emblematic of the rising generation, and of the promise of America’s future.

Yes, democracy is messy, he said, but there are more good people than bad and things will turn out just fine.

“We just have to fight for it. We have to work for it and we have to not take it for granted.”

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What can we expect from Trump's first 100 days?

In the first three months of his presidency, Donald Trump wants to pull America out of a free trade deal, reduce environmental protections and establish a cyber defence team. He may also try to scrap Obamacare and appoint a Supreme Court Justice who shares his worldview.

The President-elect has made a flurry of claims as to what he will do in his first 100 days upon entering the Oval Office. For all his talk about building a wall on the Mexican border, that is unlikely to begin in the first three months.

But the signals he has given about the things he will set out to do, have already sparked concern among a number of activist and campaigners, anxious that Mr Trump will roll back a number of hard-earned victories.

“I think some of the extremely right-wing people are saying that Trump does not care about issues such as abortion right and reproductive rights, and that it would be an easy bone to throw them,” Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, told The Independent. “I hope he will not delegate this issue to people such as Mike Pence, who has an extreme position.”

The first 100 days of a presidency are considered the period when the incoming administration seeks to set the pace for what is to come. The term came into use during the administration of President Franklin D Roosevelt, who used that period set in place the foundations of the New Deal.

Yet other presidents have frequently failed to match the example, and even make bad mistakes. President John F Kennedy ordered the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. President Barack Obama‘s first 100 days saw him try to confront the economic crisis he inherited, by pushing through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Mr Trump laid out his priorities in a video address last November, which he said his overarching aim was to “put America first”. The list of things he reeled off focussed on issues he could address using executive orders.

His proposals include withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, cancel “job-killing restrictions on the production of American energy” and creating “many millions of high-paying jobs”. This was taken to be a deference to limits on emissions overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency. Mr Trump has dismissed climate change science.

His incoming chief-of-staff, Reince Priebus, said last year of Mr Trump’s attitude: “Look, he’ll have an open mind about it, but he has his default position, which is most of it is a bunch of bunk.”

Mr Trump also intends to establish a cyber-review team made up of members of the military, law enforcement and the private sector. On immigration, his plan is to end “illegal immigration and suspend immigration from terror problem regions.”

In the video, Mr Trump also said he will “investigate all abuses of visa programmes that undercut the American worker”. As part of his promise to “drain the swamp”, he want to prohibit officials becoming lobbyists for five years after leaving government. A plan that has not been warmly welcomed on Capitol Hill is to push for a Constitutional Amendment to impose term limits on all members of Congress.

“Trump seems to have so many priorities, doesn’t he? First up will be revocation of many of President Obama’s executive orders, such as those in the areas of immigration and climate change. This Trump can do with the stroke of his pen,” said Larry Sabato, professor of politics at the University of Virginia. “Then he wants to nominate his Supreme Court choice quickly.”

He added: “Don’t forget about tax cuts – always a big winner on the Republican side.”

On foreign policy, Mr Trump has said he wants to establish a new relationship with Russia. This will be very controversial, even among his Republican colleagues on Capitol Hill, but the New York tycoon he has indicated he is ready for a reset. People will watch to see if he reverses the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats by Barack Obama in response to Moscow’s alleged cyber-meddling in the election.

At last week’s news conference in New York, Mr Trump said of his approach to Russia: “If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what folks – that’s called an asset, not a liability.”

The President-elect says he expected things to happen quickly. Shortly after his election win, Mr Pence went meet with Republican Congressional leaders and urged them to “buckle up”.

“I’m very confident that as we move towards inauguration, bring together a great team, work in concert with leaders in the House and Senate, and we’re going to move an agenda that’s going to rebuild our military, revive our economy, and – in a word – make America great again,” he said.

Activists believe the rolling back of environmental safeguards and the withdrawal of affordable healthcare, could have the most dramatic impact.

Natural Resources Defence Council president Rhea Suh said earlier this month: “If we care about our waters, our lands and all they support, if we care about American values of equity and justice for all our people, if we care about leaving our children a liveable world, it’s time to stand up and fight this extremist agenda.”

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All change for the Trump White House

WASHINGTON: From the role of the First Lady to presidential getaways, Donald Trump‘s White House is going to look very different from that of his predecessors, even without a bling ballroom makeover.

Franklin Roosevelt had his “fireside chats” broadcast over the wireless, John F. Kennedy deployed his dashing good looks to black and white television and the grand orator Barack Obama saw few problems that could not be solved by a hefty speech.

Donald Trump likes to tweet — a lot. And that is unlikely to change in office.

Even his top aides admit they don’t always know in advance when the boss is going to send a 140 character missive.

So from now on expect some early-morning scrambling around 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as aides play catch up and patch up.

“I don’t know whether it’s the finest public housing in America or the crown jewel of the prison system,” Bill Clinton once joked about life inside the White House bubble.

For sure, the presidency has up-sides — whizzing through traffic in “the Beast” or having Air Force One depart minutes after you step on board. But for modern presidents even a walk outside the gates is a military operation requiring a phalanx of agents, HAZMAT teams, doctors, snipers and the rest.

Trump — by upbringing and lifestyle — may be better prepared for the closeted nature of the office than many of his predecessors, but he’s still going to want to get away from it all.

Many presidents have trekked west to the California desert and Sunnylands, many more have made the short hop north of Washington to the presidential retreat at Camp David.

Trump may choose to use his own pad on New York’s Fifth Avenue, but with planes constantly passing nearby and no secure perimeter it is likely to give the Secret Service the jitters. A more likely getaway destination, aides say, is Mar-a-Lago, his luxurious club in Palm Beach, Florida.

President Jimmy Carter’s wife Rosalynn sat in on cabinet meetings, Eleanor Roosevelt held press conferences, Hillary Clinton championed health care reform from her West Wing office and Michelle Obama proved a kind of role-model-in-chief for a younger generation.

Melania Trump is unlikely to be quite as political a first lady, or even as present in the White House. The president-elect has indicated Melania and their 10-year-old son Barron Trump will say in New York at least for the foreseeable future.

But as first daughter, Ivanka Trump could be a different story. The 35-year-old businesswoman and her husband Jared Kushner are set to be a force inside both East and West wings.

Ivanka has been a near constant presence by her father’s side and Kushner has been formally appointed “Senior Advisor to the President” — working alongside the chief of staff Reince Priebus and Trump’s close strategic advisor Stephen Bannon.

There is very little precedent for presidential progeny playing such a formal White House role, in part because of nepotism laws. Indeed, you might have to go back to John Quincy Adams who served as his father’s emissary to Prussia, before becoming the sixth president.

President Barack Obama didn’t so much dislike the press as tolerate its flitting focus. Trump has a love-hate relationship with the press — which he courts assiduously but also berates as biased against him.

That strident tone has gone down marvelously with Trump’s hardcore supporters, who view the so-called “mainstream media” as little more than an activist wing of the “liberal elite.”

Trump’s team has signaled that tone is unlikely to change in office, and whatever else changes in the White House, it will not be business as usual for the press. The president-elect’s aides have suggested daily press briefings could become a thing of the past and that the press corps could be evicted from the West Wing of the White House.

Expect Trump’s stormy relationship with the press to continue.

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Trump shakes postwar order, in blow to Europe

BRUSSELS: Europe must pull together or risk being sidelined as Donald Trump signals the end of a postwar transatlantic partnership credited with keeping the peace for the past 70 years, analysts and officials say.

Fears about the US president-elect’s isolationist stance became a reality this week when Trump challenged basic assumptions about the role of an “obsolete” NATO and backed the break-up of the European Union.

The shock was palpable among countries who up to now have considered themselves among Washington’s closest allies but now face a sobering new reality when the billionaire businessman is inaugurated on Friday.

Europe already faces a host of problems — Britain’s impending EU exit, a nasty stand-off with Russia, and turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa driving terrorism and the worst migrant crisis since World War II.

Against this backdrop, Europe could now have to take the difficult but very costly steps required to provide security for itself after decades of sheltering under the US security umbrella.

“If EU leaders fail to pull together and speak up much more loudly than before, they risk being sidelined,” said analysts Stefan Lehne and Heather Grabbe, writing for Carnegie Europe.

“To the extent that Washington engages with Europe at all, it will likely deal with countries individually. When a leader opposes his agenda, Trump’s government may well seek to play off one European against another.”

European leaders reacted with shock at Trump’s comments.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whom Trump said had made a “catastrophic decision” to let in a million refugees, insisted that “we Europeans have our fate in our own hands.” Her foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said there was “astonishment” in the EU.

French President Francois Hollande meanwhile insisted Europe “has no need for outside advice to tell it what it has to do”.

France and Germany have led recent efforts to create an EU defence plan, based on coordination and shared weapons procurement in order to cut costs and boost integration.

EU foreign affairs head Federica Mogherini has in turn formulated a global strategy based on the idea the bloc should achieve “strategic autonomy,” coupled with increased cooperation with NATO.

NATO groups 22 of the EU’s 28 member states and many of those, led by Britain but including several former Soviet satellites in the east, believe that the US-led alliance — not Brussels — is the only real collective defence option against a more assertive Russia.

On that basis, President Barack Obama won NATO leaders’ backing for the biggest military build-up since the end of the Cold War in response to Russia’s Ukraine intervention and annexation of Crimea.

But what if NATO under Trump is not so willing to come to their aid?

“If President Trump calls into question the European decision (to bolster NATO), EU member states will have to consider increasing strategic autonomy by reinforcing collective defence inside the EU,” said analyst Felix Arteaga at the Elcano Royal Institute think-tank in Madrid.

A key test would be if Trump goes over Europe’s heads to do a Ukraine deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin, badly wrong footing the allies, analysts said.

Other analysts say Trump may have been misunderstood or had talked too loosely.

Professor Zbigniew Lewicki, chairman of the Polish Institute of International Affairs, said: “I think he considers NATO obsolete in the sense of being ineffective fighting terrorism rather than trying to disband it, which I don’t think he wants to do.”

“When it comes to deeds, I don’t think he will do anything to destroy NATO, or for that matter, to destroy, if he could, the European Union. I trust him more than his words.”

Ian Lesser, vice president at the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Brussels, said Trump’s comments should be treated seriously but not over-dramatically.

His call, for example, for the allies to share more of the NATO spending burden reflected longstanding and well-known US concerns that had also been pushed by Obama, Lesser said.

The bottom line was that the US and Europe have shared interests and values binding them together.

“The US commitment to Europe was not a bargain deal; it was driven by very important US interests and that remains the case,” he said.

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Russia says Snowden can stay two more years

MOSCOW: Russian authorities have extended US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden‘s Russian residency permit by two years, the foreign ministry said Wednesday.

The former National Security Agency contractor shook the American intelligence establishment to its core in 2013 with a series of devastating leaks on mass surveillance in the US and around the world.

The announcement came as outgoing US President Barack Obama commuted the sentence of army private Chelsea Manning, who was sentenced to 35 years in prison for handing classified US documents to WikiLeaks.

Snowden was not on Obama’s list of commutations or pardons.

“Snowden’s residence permit has just been extended by two years,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote on her Facebook page.

His lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, could not be reached on Wednesday morning to confirm Zakharova’s statement.

Snowden has been living in exile in Russia since 2013, where he ended up after spending weeks in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport.

He was initially granted permission to stay in Russia for one year amid the rapid deterioration in Moscow’s relations with Washington.

The revelations from the documents he leaked sparked a massive row over the data sweeps conducted by the United States domestically and in allied nations, including of their leaders.

Snowden welcomed the action on Manning’s sentence, writing on Twitter: “Let it be said here in earnest, with good heart: Thanks, Obama.”

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Pakistan will not free doctor who helped US find bin Laden

ISLAMABAD: A jailed Pakistani doctor believed to have helped the CIA hunt down al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden will be neither released nor handed to the United States, Pakistan’s law minister has told legislators, media reported on Wednesday.

Dr. Shakil Afridi, hailed as a hero by US officials, was arrested after US forces killed bin Laden in May 2011 in a secret raid in a northern Pakistani town that plunged relations between the uneasy strategic partners to a new low.

Pakistan has accused the doctor of running a fake vaccination campaign in which he collected DNA samples to help the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) confirm bin Laden’s identity.

Afridi was arrested soon after the bin Laden raid and charged with having ties to militant Islamists, which he denied.

“The law is taking its course and Afridi is having full opportunity of a fair trial,” the Daily Times newspaper quoted Law Minister Zahid Hamid as telling the upper house, in response to a lawmaker’s query about reports of a possible release.

“Afridi worked against the law and our national interest, and the Pakistan government has repeatedly been telling the United States that under our law he committed a crime and was facing the law.”

In 2012, Afridi was sentenced to 33 years in prison after being convicted of being a member of militant group Lashkar-e-Islam.

That conviction was overturned in 2013, but Afridi was then charged with murder, relating to the death of a patient eight years earlier. He remains in jail awaiting trial.

Many Pakistanis were infuriated by the US raid to grab bin Laden in the military garrison town of Abbottabad, just a two-hour drive from Islamabad, the capital.

Pakistani officials describe bin Laden’s long presence in Abbottabad as a security lapse and reject any suggestion that members of the military or intelligence services were complicit in hiding him.

Last May, Pakistan’s foreign ministry angrily criticised US President-elect Donald Trump for saying he could get Pakistan to free Afridi “within two minutes”.

Pakistan joined the US war on militancy after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

But US officials often describe Islamabad as an unreliable partner that has sheltered the Afghan Taliban leadership and demand tougher action against militant groups based along its border with Afghanistan.

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