Pakistan frees Osama bin Laden bodyguard

This frame grab from the Saudi-owned television network MBC (Middle East Broadcasting Center) shows alleged terror mastermind Osama bin Laden gesturing an undated videotape broadcast by the Dubai-based MBC 17 April 2002. AFP/Getty Images

Osama bin Laden
Osama bin Laden gestures in an undated videotape broadcast by the Dubai-based MBC in 2002.
AFP/Getty

Pakistan has set free a top-level al Qaeda prisoner who spent years guarding and fighting alongside Osama bin Laden, according to two senior Pakistani police officials, who tell CBS News Amin al-Haq was not a "key player" in the terror group, and "had no information of great value".

"Eventually there was nothing that could be used to keep holding him in custody," said one of the officials, both of whom spoke to CBS News' Farhan Bokhari on condition of anonymity.

British daily The Telegraph was first to report the release on Thursday. Their report also cites a senior Pakistani security official, who told the paper al-Haq was "arrested mistakenly, therefore, the police failed to prove any charge of his association with Osama bin Laden and the court set him free."

Al-Haq's release raises more questions about Pakistan's commitment to tackle Islamic militant groups which operate within parts of the nation with near impunity.

Relations between Islamabad and Washington have gone from bad to worse to dismal in recent weeks, with American officials making a series of accusations that Pakistan's security services are directly linked to terror groups - the most vitriolic being Adm. Mike Mullen's assertion that the deadly Haqqani terror network is a "veritable arm" of the ISI spy agency.

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The White House and State Department have sought to tone down that rhetoric (video) in the last 48 hours, but nobody connected to the Obama administration argues publicly that links between the Haqqani group and the ISI don't exist.

(Video at left: U.S., Pakistan relations at breaking-point?)

Haqqani patriarch Jalaludin Haqqani and his fighters are known to have worked in close partnership with al Qaeda in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region - providing the Arab-rooted group with vital assistance and support on the Asian continent, where Pashtun, not Arab, is the common language.

According to The Telegraph, al-Haq, an Afghan national and a trained doctor, was at bin Laden's side for about a decade, even traveling with the delegation which brought the al Qaeda leader to Afghanistan from Africa in 1996.

News of his release was first reported about a week ago, by the Afghan Islamic Press agency, quoting al-Haq's family members. They told the AIP he had already been free for about two weeks at that stage.

The Telegraph, which has tracked the militant's movements, says he fought at the Tora Bora complex in Afghanistan where U.S. troops had bin Laden cornered just weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, and he helped the terror chief escape capture and flee into Pakistan.

The security officials' claims that al-Haq was freed due to a lack of evidence are dubious, given that suspects are often held without charge for long periods of time in Pakistan without charge - particularly terror suspects.

"They could only have released him with the say so of America or if maybe there really was no evidence or he was not that important," speculates Rahimullah Yusufzai, an analyst who has interviewed many Islamic militant leaders, in The Telegraph's article.

How much operational information al-Haq might actually have been exposed to as a member of bin Laden's security detail is unclear. Pakistani intelligence sources tell Bokhari he was merely one of many bodyguards to the terror leader, and was not privy to valuable information.

The ISI held al-Haq from the time of his arrest, believed to be in 2007, until handing him over to the police as a lesser-value prisoner more recently.

  • Tucker Reals

    Tucker Reals is the CBSNews.com foreign editor, based at the CBS News London bureau.

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