'I Simply Can't Believe It' A Visit to Bin Laden's Neighborhood

High walls, barbed wire and frequent army patrols: Osama bin Laden chose to hide out in a rich garrison town that was crawling with Pakistani military. Neighbors say they can't believe the world's most wanted criminal was hiding among them.
A video grab showing a bedroom inside the mansion where Osama bin Laden was killed on May 1.

A video grab showing a bedroom inside the mansion where Osama bin Laden was killed on May 1.


The local residents are still struggling to believe what happened here in Bilal Town, in this highly militarized district of Abbottabad where the army runs a military academy, where barracks stand in green fields and which is constantly patrolled by Pakistan's military police.

Here of all places, at 1.30 a.m. local time, Osama bin Laden, the world's most wanted man, was found and killed.


Photo Gallery: Bin Laden's Luxury Compound

Foto: AP/ GEO TV

"I simply can't believe it," said Jehangir Khan, a resident of Bilal Town. "How could he hide in this highly secured city?" the businessman wondered. Like many other residents, he was woken in the night by a heavy explosion. "We were very frightened, there haven't been any terror attacks in Abbottabad," said Saifullah, a student who lives in the city.

Saifullah climbed on the roof of his parent's house and saw "two or three helicopters, there was a shootout." Other residents switched on the TV, which also had reports of two or three helicopters.

The American attack came following extensive planning and months of intelligence work. A courier of bin Laden's had unwittingly led the security experts to his hideout -- a man who had been under surveillance for some time. Guantanamo prisoners had identified him as a protégé of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the suspected mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, and had said he was one of the few couriers whom bin Laden trusted. The prisoners also hinted that the man lived with bin Laden and may also serve as a bodyguard. They also provided his alias.

'On the Right Track'

It took agents four years to determine the courier's identity. Two years ago, they were able to identify regions in Pakistan in which the courier operated, together with his brother. But it remained unclear where the men lived -- thanks in part to the meticulous security precautions the two followed. Indeed, the great care they took, a senior White House official said in a briefing on Monday, was key in "reinforcing belief we were on the right track."

According to the briefing, the breakthrough came last August when agents found the brothers' home, a residence in a suburb of Abbottabad, just 60 kilometers north of the Pakistani capital Islamabad. "When we saw the compound, we were shocked by what we saw: an extraordinarily unique compound," the official said, according to media reports.

The complex includes several buildings on a large piece of property and was built just six years ago. Agents believe it could even have been built especially for bin Laden. The complex is surrounded by walls up to 5.5 meters (18 feet) high and topped with barbed wire. There are only two entrances, and both are heavily guarded. Those living inside burned their garbage, presumably to prevent clues from leaking out.

Neighbors describe the compound in which bin Laden lived as being a "luxurious estate with a two-story villa" on the edge of Bilal Town. "Nobody could look inside because of the high wall surrounding it," said one neighbor, who preferred not to be identified. Neighbors said the residence belongs to a "very well off businessman in the transportation sector," who lives outside of Abbottabad. "Everyone knows that this is the house of a rich man," the neighbor said.

'Proud of Pakistan'

On Monday afternoon, the area around the site of the attack was still blocked off as an increasing number of international journalists and onlookers arrived. Soldiers and military police were edgy -- they struck a couple of journalists and confiscated their cameras.

"This is a high security area," a police captain yelled. "Photography is forbidden." He then pointed to a large red sign reading: "Restricted Area." Next to it was a green sign reading: "Proud of Pakistan."

How, though, is it possible that al-Qaida head Osama bin Laden was able to find sanctuary not even one kilometer away from a military academy? "We can say nothing about that," the captain told the reporters. At that moment, a tractor drove by, pulling a trailer with a house-sized object covered in a brown tarp from the site of the attack -- likely a destroyed helicopter. Camera teams quickly began filming -- and soldiers began yelling and pulled their cameras away.

"Actually, there is no better hiding place for bin Laden," a second soldier said, quietly. "Who would have suspected he was here, of all places?"

A 'Helicopter Hovering above Abbottabad'

US news channel CNN has reported that bin Laden was killed with a gunshot to the head. His body was buried at sea a short time later. Since 2007, the US has had a bounty of $25 million on bin Laden.

Bin Laden's death occurred during a swift, 40-minute operation which saw US elite soldiers storm the highly fortified compound. They had been flown to the compound by helicopter from a Pakistani air force base in the northern part of the country. The terror chief and his followers defended themselves, with guards shooting from the roof at the helicopters as they landed. A long fire fight ensued in which bin Laden, three other men and a woman were killed.

US broadcaster ABC on Monday aired the first video images of bin Laden's residence. The images show rumpled bedding and total chaos in one room. On the floor in front of two of the beds, pools of blood can be seen. Clothing, pillows and shattered glass cover the floor. A wardrobe and a wall shelf have been ransacked. The bedroom with a large bed has a only a single row of narrow windows. The short video ends with what appears to be a bathroom in which several bottles of medication are located.

Among those killed in Sunday's US-led action, American authorities believe, are a son of bin Laden's and his two couriers. US officials say no Americans were injured in the raid.

Apparently, there were no plans to arrest bin Laden. CNN, citing official sources, reported it had been a "kill mission."

Pakistani programmer Sohaib Athar unwittingly provided the first reports on the strike against bin Laden via his Twitter account. "Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event)," he wrote. Athar appeared to be irritated by the noise. "Go away helicopter - before I take out my giant swatter :-/".

When he later learned that he had been a witness to the commando action against the al-Qaida chief, he wrote: "Uh oh, now I'm the guy who liveblogged the Osama raid without knowing it."

With material from AFP and dpa
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