The BND spy service – the German equivalent of MI6 – provided a tip-off that bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan, with the knowledge of Pakistani security services, according to a report in Bild am Sonntag, a Sunday newspaper.
The information on bin Laden came from a BND informant within Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency and confirmed CIA suspicions, said the newspaper, citing unnamed US intelligence sources.
The American source was quoted as saying the German tip-off was of “fundamental importance” in the hunt for the architect of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Sceptics noted that the anonymously sourced report had come at a convenient moment for BND, which is currently in need of a public relations boost.
The agency is facing fierce domestic criticism following reports that it helped the US National Security Agency (NSA) spy on political and business targets, including the French government, European Commission and Airbus Group.
The claims – and questions of how much the office of Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, knew about the reported joint snooping – have occupied German politics and media for weeks, and are subject to two parliamentary inquests.
Merkel, who reacted furiously when it emerged that the NSA had been tapping her personal mobile phone, is herself under pressure to reveal the extent of the co-operation between German and American intelligence.
Pakistan has denied that it knew bin Laden was living within its borders or that it had advance knowledge of the 2011 US special forces operation which killed him in a walled compound in the city of Abbottabad.
The report said the BND used its Bad Aibling listening post in Bavaria to monitor telephone and email traffic in northern Pakistan to ensure the secrecy of the planned US Navy SEALs’ operation.
The German newspaper said that ultimately US services tracked down bin Laden’s exact location by following one of his couriers, as Washington has always maintained.
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