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Islamic militants train near bin Laden’s compound
A forest where villagers dare not tread
GULI BADRAL, Pakistan | In this Pakistani village surrounded by forests and glacial streams just 35 miles from where Osama bin Laden was killed, people become uneasy when asked what goes on up the mountain.
It’s where villagers avoid cutting pine trees for firewood - and where they know not to ask questions.
When pressed, they say it’s a secret training complex for Islamic militants and that the Pakistani army is aware of it. The army denies that it exists.
Accounts gathered by the Associated Press in the Ughi area of Mansehra district add to suspicion that Pakistan is playing a “double game” - that is, accepting U.S. aid to fight militants on the one hand but tolerating and in some cases encouraging and harnessing the power of extremism on the other.
Three men who identified themselves as mujahedeen - militants - told the AP that the training complex is one of at least three in the region that among them house hundreds of recruits.
The charges of Pakistani duplicity have gathered strength in the aftermath of the May 2 U.S. raid against bin Laden, who was hiding in the army town of Abbottabad and a short walk from a military academy.
Pakistani officials have denied any collusion, but the country is coming under renewed pressure to abandon its links to all Islamist militant networks.
In 2001, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said the country was severing its ties to jihadi groups amid intense U.S. pressure after the Sept. 11 attacks, but few are convinced that has happened.
The Mansehra area, a roughly four-hour drive north of the capital, Islamabad, was known to have hosted state-backed militant groups in the 1990s. The region was considered ideal for such activities largely because it is so close to Kashmir - about 25 miles from Pakistani-administered Kashmir and about 45 miles from the boundary of the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir. Both countries claim the territory in its entirety.
When contacted by the AP last week, the army denied that any training camps or other facilities are hidden away in the Mansehra area. “The allegations are baseless,” said spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas.
In Guli Badral, however, locals say extremists and men whom they presume to be soldiers are familiar sights in the village square, where they shop for meat, flour and beans before getting back into pickup trucks for the two-hour trip along a rough track to the training camp.
The three militants who spoke to the AP about the camps did not give their names and asked that the names of their organizations not be published. They said the road leading to one of the larger camps, near the village of Khatai, has an army checkpoint.
Militants and villagers alike gave the same advice to an AP team: Do not attempt to get any closer. It’s too dangerous.
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