WASHINGTON — U.S. authorities are using interviews with Osama bin Laden’s wives and video of the assault on his Pakistan compound to piece together details of the raid that killed the terrorist leader.
After days of wrangling with Pakistani leaders, U.S. intelligence officials finally were given access to bin Laden’s three wives and were allowed to question them in an effort to gather more information about life in the compound, Pentagon officials said.
U.S. defense officials, meanwhile, are considering measures to ensure the security of the Navy SEAL team that stormed the walled fortress in Abbottabad on May 2 and killed the world’s most wanted terrorist.
The three bin Laden widows who survived the raid were taken into Pakistani custody. The White House has said it was important that the U.S. be allowed to interview them as they could provide information about bin Laden’s life in his compound.
But the Islamic practice of segregating women from men means the wives probably would not have been present for meetings or discussions about al-Qaida operations.
Still, with bin Laden’s trusted couriers dead, the women could offer rare details about bin Laden, particularly his life over the past few years as the manhunt for him wore on.
U.S. intelligence and military analysts have been examining footage from cameras mounted in the helmets of the Navy SEALs, capturing a minute-by-minute account of the operation.
The video will provide a more detailed and accurate picture of the raid, compared to early information that relied on the first reports from members of the elite team, both during the operation and interviews with them afterward.
U.S. military officials have cautioned that the initial reports can often be wrong, blurred by the fog of battle and conclusions based on split-second sighting or sounds.
That proved true in this case as details pouring out in the first 48 hours after the raid — including who was in the compound, who was killed, and how much resistance the commandos met — were repeatedly refined and corrected.
Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan and White House press secretary Jay Carney would not discuss what the wives said during the questioning. It was not clear whether the interviews would continue.
The sparse details about those interviews reflect a growing concern by military officials about the flood of information that has come out about the raid and the secretive Navy SEALs who made it all possible.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said during a meeting with Marines at Camp Lejeune, N.C., that when he met with the team last week they expressed concerns about the security of their families.
“Frankly, a week ago Sunday, in the Situation Room, we all agreed that we would not release any operational details from the effort to take out bin Laden,” Gates told Marines. “That all fell apart on Monday — the next day.”
Gates added, “We are looking at what measures can be taken to pump up the security.”
He said there has been a consistent effort to protect the identities of those who participated in the raid — which also included elite Army pilots who flew the daring mission. They are members of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, known as the Night Stalkers.
Associated Press writer Matt Apuzzo contributed to this report.