Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan faced a growing backlash Thursday after he said former Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had been “martyred”.
Khan made the comment in parliament as he was describing the history of Pakistan’s troubled relations with the US since American special forces killed bin Laden in 2011 in the northern city of Abbottabad.
“The Americans came to Abbottabad and killed Osama bin Laden. Martyred him,” Khan said.
Martyrs are greatly revered in Islam and the term is generally used for people who die or are killed while in the service of the religion, or in formidable circumstances.
The prime minister faced blowback from opposition figures and observers following the televised speech.
“Imran Khan has fiddled with history, declaring Osama bin Laden as a martyr today,” former foreign minister Khawaja Asif told parliament.
“Muslims all over the world are struggling because of the discrimination they face due to recent terrorism & our PM makes it worse by calling obl a martyr of Islam!” Meena Gabeena, a Pakistani activist, said on Twitter.
Pakistan has officially denied knowing bin Laden was hiding in the country until he was shot dead in a nighttime raid on May 2, 2011.
The incident was a major national embarrassment and caused already-tenuous ties between the US and Pakistan to fray further.
Asad Durrani, a former spymaster, told Al Jazeera in 2015 that Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency likely knew where he was hiding and hoped to use him as a bargaining chip.
The 9/11 mastermind was tracked down after a 10-year manhunt to Abbottabad, a garrison town north of Islamabad where Pakistan’s military academy is headquartered, sparking allegations authorities were colluding with the terror group.
Khan has made repeated controversial statements over the years, including during a trip to the US in 2019 when he claimed the ISI provided Washington with a lead that helped them find and kill bin Laden.
The cricketer-turned premier has long been criticised by opponents for overly sympathising with militants, with rivals once dubbing him “Taliban Khan”.
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