Abbottabad: How Did Bin Laden Hide in This ‘Sleepy’ Town?

BY Larisa Epatko  May 4, 2011 at 12:29 PM EDT


People gather around Osama Bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan; Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images

Bullet holes riddle the walls of the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where terrorist leader Osama bin Laden was hiding — one of the few remaining signs of the U.S. siege that ended up killing the most wanted man in the world over the weekend.

The house, constructed in 2005, stands out for other reasons as well: at three stories, it’s the tallest structure in the area with high walls bearing razor wire.

Still, neighbors were shocked to hear the quiet family that basically kept to itself was that of bin Laden, leader of al-Qaida and mastermind of the 9/11 attacks in the United States, said Suzanna Koster, a contributor to GlobalPost in Pakistan.

The residents said they would exchange Islamic greetings with the family, but not much more than that, and they observed the family leave the compound by car from time to time, she said.

Abbottabad, which is north of Islamabad, hosts a West Point-like military academy, boarding schools and retirees who enjoy the temperate weather, said Kamal Siddiqi, editor of the Tribune Express in Karachi. The “sleepy” town has very few incidents of violence and a safe reputation, which might have been how bin Laden escaped detection, he said.

“Possibly it could have been an ideal place for him, because that was the last place one would look for him,” said Siddiqi.

Bin Laden’s ability to hide in the complex, just down the road from the military academy and military base, has stirred concerns among some U.S. lawmakers about the realities of Pakistan’s partnership with the U.S.

But Mehmal Sarfraz, an opinion page editor for the Daily Times, based in Lahore, said Pakistanis also wonder if the military knew where bin Laden was and suspect it only roots out extremists and militants of their choosing. “Others they will hide and cherish for their own advantage” some people believe, she said.

In response to the rumors and speculation, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement Monday, describing its anti-terrorism efforts:

Pakistan has played a significant role in efforts to eliminate terrorism. We have had extremely effective intelligence sharing arrangements with several intelligence agencies including that of the US. We will continue to support international efforts against terrorism.

It is Pakistan’s stated policy that it will not allow its soil to be used in terrorist attacks against any country. Pakistan’s political leadership, Parliament, state institutions and the whole nation are fully united in their resolve to eliminate terrorism.

A Pakistani intelligence official said Pakistanis raided the house in 2003, while it was still under construction, to try to locate a third-ranking al-Qaida leader, though he was never found, according to media reports.

Eventually, it was a courier who led the U.S. intelligence community to the house.

Koster said residents of Abbottabad are still coming to terms with their notorious neighbor. “The mood here is probably different than the rest of Pakistan,” she said. “People find it unbelievable that he has been killed or living in their neighborhood without them knowing it.”

Other reports about the home and how the people inside lived noted that bin Laden’s helpers would visit a local shop to buy “enough food for 10 people,” including Coke and Pepsi, eggs and olive oil. Personal items found in the home included petroleum jelly, antiseptic, nasal spray and eye drops. A sign painted on an outside wall advertised a “girls college,” which never opened.

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