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U.S. requests access to bin Laden widows

ISLAMABAD -- The United States wants access to Osama bin Laden's three widows and any intelligence material its commandos left behind at the al-Qaida leader's compound, a top American official said in comments broadcast yesterday that could add fresh tensions to already frayed ties with Pakistan.

Information from the women, who remained in the house after the commandos killed bin Laden, might answer questions about whether Pakistan harbored the al-Qaida chief, as many American officials are speculating. It could also reveal details about bin Laden's day-to-day life, his actions since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and al-Qaida's inner workings.

The women, along with several children also picked up from the house, are believed to be in Pakistani army custody. An army official declined to comment on the request, which U.S. National Security Adviser Tom Donilon revealed on NBC's "Meet the Press."

The CIA and Pakistan's spy agency, the ISI, have worked uneasily together in the past on counterterrorism. But the unilateral U.S. raid, done without telling Pakistan beforehand, has exposed the deep mistrust that scars a complicated if vital partnership for both nations.

In the current environment, Pakistan could use the fact it has something Washington wants -- bin Laden's widows -- as leverage to reduce some of the pressure it is under.

Bin Laden's location close to a military academy in the army town of Abbottabad raised U.S. suspicions that he had help from some Pakistani authorities.

Donilon said Washington had seen no evidence that the Pakistani government had been colluding with bin Laden. That's the public line taken by U.S. officials, including President Barack Obama.

"But they need to investigate that," Donilon said. "And they need to provide us with intelligence, by the way, from the compound that they've gathered, including access to Osama bin Laden's three wives, whom they have in . . . custody."

Pakistani officials have given little information, some of it conflicting, about the identities of the women and the children left behind.

One of the wives is Yemeni, Pakistani officials have said. A copy of her passport, leaked to the local media, identifies her as Amal Ahmed Abdullfattah. She has allegedly told Pakistani investigators that she moved to the home in 2006 and never left the upper floors of the three-story compound.

When the Navy SEALs raided bin Laden's compound, they collected computer equipment and videos, including one that showed bin Laden huddled in a blanket and wearing a knit cap while seated on the floor watching television, an image that contrasts with the bin Laden seen in propaganda videos that depicted him as a charismatic religious figure unaffected by the world's scorn.

Many Pakistanis, who are routinely misled by their government and live in a country where television and newspapers report conspiracy theories about the malign intentions of the United States uncritically, don't believe bin Laden has died.

"The making of a video is not a big thing for America," said Mohammad Khan at a newspaper kiosk in Rawalpindi. "They can do what they want because they have the latest technology. They can make impossible things seem possible."

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