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Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan says the U.S. "martyred" Osama bin Laden

Pakistan Kashmir
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan addresses a Kashmir rally at the Prime Minister office in Islamabad, Pakistan, Aug. 30, 2019. AP

Pakistan's Prime Minister has risked further alienating Washington by saying al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was "martyred" by the United States. Imran Khan made the controversial comment in parliament while describing the troubled history between the U.S. and Pakistani governments. 

"The Americans came to Abbottabad and killed Osama bin Laden, martyred him," Khan said.

His word choice is not being seen as an accident. Many noted that during his often rambling speech ahead of a budget announcement, he initially used the word "killed" for Bin Laden, then stopped and decided to use the word "martyred." 

A martyr, by definition, is someone killed for their religious beliefs — not for planning the deadliest terrorist attack ever on U.S. soil. In the Muslim world, the word conveys a sense of heroism and nobility in death.

Former Navy SEAL reflects on mission to kill Osama bin Laden 10:23

Bin Laden, the mastermind of the September 11 terror attacks on Washington and New York, was killed in 2011 when U.S. Special Forces raided his hideout in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad.

The U.S. did not inform Pakistani officials in advance of the raid, and it has been a point of contention since.

Bin Laden and other senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders from that era are still revered by Islamist militant groups, which are seen by many as a proxy force used by Pakistan's powerful military, with which Khan is closely aligned. Analysts say any move to publicly condemn Bin Laden could hurt Khan's ties to his powerful military commanders.

Regardless, Khan's choice of words is likely to further ruffle feathers with the Trump administration, which has taken a hard line against Pakistan in recent years, making deep cuts to military aid and forging ever-closer ties with rival India.

It also didn't sit well with some of the prime minister's political foes at home, with opposition lawmaker Khwaja Mohammed Asif saying Bin Laden had brought terrorism to Pakistan.

"He ruined my country, but he (Khan) is calling him a martyr," he said after Khan's remarks in parliament.

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