(Updates with White House response in seventh, eighth paragraphs.)
June 15 (Bloomberg) -- Pakistan has arrested about 30 to 40 civilians since it began investigating the killing of Osama bin Laden last month, a military spokesman said, denying a report that an army major was among those detained.
Some of those arrested have already been released, Brigadier Azmat Ali, director of public relations at the army’s media unit in Rawalpindi, said by phone today. Ali declined to give further details of the detentions.
A report in the New York Times today that an army officer is being held for aiding the CIA search for the al-Qaeda leader is “totally wrong,” Ali said. “I can say with authority that all arrests were non-military.”
Within 24 hours of the U.S. commando raid that killed bin Laden, Pakistani security officials began arresting people from the neighborhood where the al-Qaeda leader had sheltered, residents there said in interviews May 3. Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said May 9 that the government would investigate how officials had failed to detect both bin Laden’s presence and the U.S. commando raid that killed him.
The Times report said Pakistan’s top military spy agency had detained five Pakistani informants who fed information to the Central Intelligence Agency in the months leading up to the raid that killed bin Laden on May 2.
Those arrested include a Pakistani army major who officials said copied the license plates of cars visiting bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, the report said, citing American officials it didn’t name.
U.S. President Barack Obama’s spokesman declined to comment directly on the arrests. White House press secretary Jay Carney said the U.S. regards cooperation with Pakistan in the war against terrorism as “extremely important” to national security, while also describing the two nations as having a “complicated relationship.”
“We continue to work with the Pakistanis,” Carney said at a briefing at the White House in Washington.
Tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan have risen since the raid on bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, a town about 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of Islamabad and that is home to the nation’s most prestigious military academy and many retired military officers.
U.S. lawmakers have questioned Pakistan’s commitment to fighting militants and have said that further aid should be tied to actions against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Pakistan’s army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani on June 10 said he won’t allow the U.S. to conduct independent espionage operations on the country’s soil.
--With assistance from Anwar Shakir in Peshawar, Pakistan and Roger Runningen in Washington. Editors: Mark Williams, Peter Hirschberg
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