Pakistani officer's photos show blood, but not bin Laden

McClatchy NewspapersMay 4, 2011 

ABBOTTABAD, Pakistan — Photos taken by a Pakistani security official inside Osama bin Laden's hideout provide the most graphic images — and perhaps the only ones that will ever be made public — of the chaos that engulfed the three-story house in the moments before a U.S. special forces team killed the terrorist leader with automatic weapons fire to the head.

The photos don't include images of bin Laden, whose body had been hauled from the house and carried off by a U.S. helicopter perhaps as much as half hour before Pakistani troops arrived on the scene.

But they do show the bodies of three other men sprawled on a blood-soaked floor and hint at the grisly nature of bin Laden's own wounds — one of the reasons the White House announced Wednesday that it wouldn't release photos taken of the dead bin Laden.

In the Pakistani security official's images, blood oozes from the dead men's noses, ears and mouths. The pictures show no weapons, though what appears to be a plastic toy gun can be seen underneath one of the men, who's lying near what seem to be computer cords. The U.S. team reportedly carried off a computer, hard drives and other electronic equipment from the house.

One of the men, a thin man with a short beard, looks as if he could be Arab. The other two, who are bulkier and have mustaches, appear more likely to be Pakistani. Time stamps on two of the photos indicate they were taken at around 2:30 a.m. Monday, about an hour after the raid, which began at 12:45 a.m., had ended.

The Pakistani security official sold the photographs to the Reuters news agency, which distributed them to its clients.

U.S. officials have said that three men, in addition to bin Laden, were killed in the early morning raid — two men who likely were al Qaida couriers and one of bin Laden's sons. Locals have said they were aware only of two men at the house, who identified themselves as Tariq and Arshad Khan.

New clues also emerged about how bin Laden might have escaped detection during his stay at the house, which U.S. officials said was built specifically to house him six years ago.

According to a Pakistani television channel, Express News, the house has 10 bedrooms, each with a kitchen and a bathroom. That arrangement would have allowed residents and guests in the house to live independently of one another, without having to congregate even for meals. Around 20 people lived in the house, including seven or more children, reports indicate.

Pakistani officials have refused to allow reporters to enter the compound where bin Laden died. Express News said it had gained entry and offered a detailed description of the layout.

There were three bedrooms on the first floor, four bedrooms on the second floor and three more bedrooms on the third floor — where U.S. officials say bin Laden was shot and killed.

On the first floor, Express News said, a bathroom of one of the bedrooms had a chair with a big hole cut out of the middle, which seemed to be designed for someone who could not bend easily to sit on the toilet. The program speculated that this seat was for bin Laden, who was long rumored to have been ill with kidney trouble.

A bedroom on the second floor had a whiteboard on the wall, with some writing in Arabic. None of the children living at the house went to school, say the neighbors. The whiteboard could have been used to teach the children. All the books and letters found in the house were in Arabic, the program said.

Outside, there were around 100 chickens in cages and two cows. Vegetables were being grown in the garden. A garage contained a Suzuki Potohar jeep and a small Suzuki van — both popular, inexpensive, vehicles in Pakistan. Tracking the movement of the van is thought to have originally led U.S. intelligence to the house.

Unusually for Pakistan, the house had a central heating system, according to the television channel. That would be considered a big luxury in Abbottabad, which is set in the foothills of the Himalayas and gets cold in winter.

Still, local real estate professional said U.S. officials wildly overestimated the value of the property when they described it as a $1 million mansion. The rather shabby home, with peeling paint and sitting on a little under an acre, has a value of probably no more than 20 million rupees, or about $235,000 in U.S. currency.

"It's not an impressive house. The build quality doesn't look top grade, and it isn't in the best part of town," said Mohammad Anwar, who runs the Property Point agency in Abbottabad. "We're assessing it on the ground, not from a satellite."

Reports say the house, in the Bilal Town suburb of Abbottabad, is around 3,000 square feet.

Anwar said that the notoriety that the house had brought to the area could mean that land prices in Bilal Town will plummet, by as much as 50 percent. Normally sleepy Abbottabad is known chiefly for housing the Pakistan Military Academy and also the headquarters of two army regiments.

It's unclear what Pakistani officials will do with the house, which could become a pilgrimage site for extremists. For now, the home has become an instant local tourist attraction.

Wednesday afternoon, when Pakistani security officials lifted a cordon around the house, people swarmed forward, creating a festive scene. Young men came to leer at the foreign female journalists — uncovered women in public are uncommon in this conservative part of Pakistan. Families came with their children. One enterprising man was selling snacks. Everyone clambered for the best vantage point, on the roofs of surrounding houses.

"It's such a big deal. They claim bin Laden was living here for five years, so we wanted to see," said Bilal Khan, 42, who had come with his sister and five children. "It's so strange that he would leave the mountains of Afghanistan and choose to live in the lap of the Pakistan military."

There was also plenty of skepticism.

"No one believes that Osama bin Laden could have lived here. Show us the proof," said Saifoor Khan, 51. "It is all just a Hollywood picture."

(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

ON THE WEB

Reuters photos at The Guardian: WARNING: Graphic content

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