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Abbottabad Residents ‘Shocked’ Bin Laden Hid Nearby

May 2, 2011 at 6:23 PM EST
Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces in a late-night raid over the weekend on his compound in the relatively affluent town of Abbottabad, just outside Pakistan's capital of Islamabad. Special correspondent Saima Mohsin reports on locals' amazement that the world's most wanted man was living in their midst.
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TRANSCRIPT

GWEN IFILL: Now to reaction in Pakistan.

For that, we go to NewsHour special correspondent Saima Mohsin in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Jeffrey Brown spoke with her a short time ago.

JEFFREY BROWN: Saima, welcome.

Tell us a little bit more about the situation there at the compound right now and also a bit more about the town itself.

SAIMA MOHSIN: Well, the compound has tonight been sealed and cordoned off. This is as close as we can get to it. It’s about 1,000 meters down this road.

And I don’t know if you can see the police officers behind me who are patrolling up and down, making sure that no media can get through any closer to see it. We are hoping to get closer to it tomorrow. But, as it stands tonight, it’s been sealed off. We understand the body has been taken away.

And just to give you a sense of exactly where we are in the city, Abbottabad is actually a holiday resort. A lot of people retire here. People have summer houses here. It’s in a hilly area in Pakistan, in the north of Pakistan. It’s very picturesque. It’s quite a sleepy town, really, so a lot of amazement that amongst their midst was Osama bin Laden, and of course, the irony that you can’t walk 100 meters or so without seeing a military installation here.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so, you have had a chance to talk to people today. Tell us a little bit about — you say they were surprised. What — what were they saying, to find out about this?

SAIMA MOHSIN: Complete shock and amazement.

I met one gentleman who lives only a few doors down from his house. He literally drove past it every day on the way to work, and said he had absolutely no idea that Osama bin Laden could be his neighbor.

He did say that the compound seemed strange. It was a very unusual structure, much larger than any other house along this neighborhood, from what I have seen so far, too. And, of course, the high walls we have been hearing about and footage we have seen is also unusual.

However, as is often the case in Pakistan, he said to me: “There are some very rich people who do own a lot of land and might have just sealed it off for privacy. So, we asked no more questions. We just assumed that — that it was someone who had moved into the neighborhood,” but complete shock and amazement that, in a place like Abbottabad, and of course in a place with such heavy military presence, Osama bin Laden could have been living here.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, here in the U.S., of course, there is a lot of discussion about how bin Laden could have lived there without anyone knowing, particularly any authorities. Is that discussion taking place there in Pakistan as well?

SAIMA MOHSIN: Yes, it most certainly is. These questions are being echoed right here in Abbottabad and, of course, right across Pakistan.

How could he have been in the midst of this city with people living right next door to him and not knowing that he was there or reporting that there was strange activity perhaps, but more so the irony of the fact that this is a place where there are a lot of military installations. As I said, you can’t walk 100 paces without seeing a combined military hospital.

There is, of course, just a few hundred meters away the famous Kakul Pakistan Military Academy as well. So, it’s peppered with military installations. It’s almost as though he was right under the military’s nose, and no one knew about it.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, what is the official reaction or response from the government and from the military at this point? What are they saying?

SAIMA MOHSIN: Again, a little bit of shock here that there hasn’t been any official word from the military. They have kept quiet on this.

I understand there was a very high-profile meeting this morning with the intelligence agencies, the police and various members of the military to discuss this operation conducted directly by U.S. forces in the early hours of Sunday — Monday morning and Sunday night — however, no official statements coming from the military.

There has been a statement from the Foreign Office, however, emphasizing that this was an intelligence-led operation, perhaps alluding to the fact that the Pakistani intelligence agencies did help the United States get to Osama bin Laden, however, making it very clear in this carefully worded statement that it was United States’ forces that conducted the operation in what has always been U.S.-led policy, that they will go directly to get Osama bin Laden dead or alive.

JEFFREY BROWN: And to that point, are you hearing any anger expressed or frustration, or whatever word you pick, expressly about that, that it was a U.S. military operation in Pakistan?

SAIMA MOHSIN: Well, as news of his death is starting to sink in here in Pakistan, as it is right across the world, the questions are now starting to be asked: How is it that he was here in Abbottabad? How is it that U.S. forces themselves came on to Pakistani soil?

We’ve heard that turn of phrase so many times: Boots on the ground are unacceptable. Pakistan’s sovereignty should not be breached.

And of course, officials will always perhaps come out and say, it’s unacceptable, but as we have seen with the drone attacks, the Pakistani people feel that perhaps officials turn a blind eye to this. And local people are saying this to me today, that it couldn’t be possible that they didn’t know about it.

However, this is the sentiment here. There is anger that United States felt that it could come right directly on to Pakistani soil.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, briefly, Saima, there was a warning from the Pakistani Taliban today that there would be some kind of response. Is that being taken seriously there?

SAIMA MOHSIN: It most definitely is.

Of course, Pakistan has been a victim and suffered itself many terrorist attacks at the hands of al-Qaida, the Pakistani Taliban and other extremist groups inspired by Osama bin Laden. And yes, there is a fear of a backlash, even more so now as splinter groups perhaps come out seeking revenge in smaller pockets up and down the country.

And we have seen a reaction to that in terms of people saying that more police vigilance is needed and — and the public needs to be more aware of this.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Saima Mohsin in Pakistan, thanks very much.

SAIMA MOHSIN: Thank you.