Pakistanis: Bin Laden lived in Abbottabad house for 5 years

McClatchy NewspapersMay 5, 2011 

ABBOTTABAD, Pakistan — One of Osama bin Laden's wives has told interrogators that the al Qaida leader and his family, including perhaps as many as three wives, had lived in this Pakistani resort city for five years when U.S. special forces stormed the compound shortly before 1 a.m. Monday and shot him dead, a senior Pakistani military official said Thursday.

Pakistani security officials who responded to the raid said that one of the first sights they encountered as they entered the three-story house after the U.S. troops had left was a woman who was cradling the head of another woman in her lap. She looked up and spoke to them in English:

"I am Saudi. Osama bin Laden is my father."

The wounded woman she was cradling, who'd been shot in the leg, lay quietly, still conscious. Nearby, another woman had her hands bound behind her back and her mouth taped closed.

Four children were in the house. The youngest was a baby, perhaps 6 or 7 months old, in a cot. There was a child who looked about 3 years old, one who was 4 or 5 and another who seemed about 6 years old. The older children had their legs tied together.

At the bottom of the staircase on the first floor lay the corpse of a young man. Pakistani security officials identified the man from a photo circulated by the Reuters news agency as bin Laden's son Khalid.

Three days after helicopter-borne U.S. Navy SEALs swarmed into a walled compound here, Pakistani security officials began talking about what they saw when they arrived at the house minutes after the Americans had flown away, taking bin Laden's body with them.

The officials spoke only on the condition of anonymity, saying they'd been told not to talk to reporters. But with contradictory versions of what took place emerging in Washington, their cursory accounts provide a lens, even if imperfect, through which to begin piecing together what unfolded during the fewer than 40 minutes that American troops were on the ground in the dusty compound.

There were few signs of the firefight that U.S. officials said Monday had taken place. The Pakistani security officials interviewed Thursday said they'd noticed no weapons in the house and that the outside of the building bore no impact scars from bullets.

The blood-soaked body of a man who neighbors said had identified himself as Arshad Khan was found outside a small house near the compound's main residential building. U.S. officials now say that Arshad Khan, who they think also used the nom de guerre Abu Ahmed al Kuwaiti, was the courier who led them to bin Laden and the only member of bin Laden's team to have fired on the American troops.

The man who identified himself to neighbors as Tariq, Arshad's brother, also was found dead inside the house, though none of the Pakistani security officials could say precisely where his body lay. A photograph shot by a Pakistani security official and sold to Reuters shows him face up in a pool of blood, his eyes open and what seem to be cords from a computer near his head.

Neighbors who saw the gruesome photos Thursday readily identified Arshad and Tariq as the men they knew who lived in the house.

"There's no doubt. This one is Arshad," said a local shopkeeper, Rasheed, who gave only one name, pointing to the picture of the bulkier man, who seemed to have a little beard and a moustache. "This one is Tariq," he said on seeing the photograph of the other man with a moustache.

The brothers brought children to Rasheed's shop to buy sweets and soft drinks, he said. The children, none older than 9, spoke Pashto, the language spoken by Pakistani Pashtuns, and were presumed to be the children of Arshad and Tariq.

At a tailor shop next door, Shajaat, who also only gave one name, was shown the pictures and said that these were the two men he'd see emerge from the house often and walk past his shop, though he didn't know their names.

At a ramshackle little house directly opposite bin Laden's, Mohammad Qasim, a 20-year-old whose father, Shamraiz, was arrested by Pakistani security personnel immediately after the American raid, also identified Tariq from the photographs. He said that the picture of Arshad wasn't clear enough for him to be sure.

"Tariq was the one who would bring the children out usually, pretty much every day, to the shops," Qasim said.

None of them, however, could identify the Arab-looking young man in the third photograph, another bit of evidence that however long they'd lived in the house, bin Laden and his family had stayed inside the compound, and perhaps inside the house itself. CIA Director Leon Panetta told a television interviewer earlier this week in Washington that aerial surveillance of the house had never captured an image of anyone they could be certain was bin Laden.

A terrace on the top story of the house, with high walls on three sides but no roof, may have allowed the al Qaida leader and his family to have some fresh air and sun.

The identity of the English-speaking woman is uncertain. On Tuesday, a Pakistani security official described her as bin Laden's daughter and said she was 12 or 13.

But Pakistanis interviewed Thursday described her as appearing to be about 20, leaving open the possibility that she was another of bin Laden's wives. A Pakistani intelligence official said Thursday that they'd taken three wives of bin Laden into custody from the house.

The name of one, Amal Ahmed Abdel Fatteh, from Yemen, was made public when Pakistani television aired a photo of her passport, which was found in the house.

Also unclear is the identity of the woman who was found bound and gagged. Some accounts suggested that she was a doctor who was there to attend to the ailing bin Laden, while others suggested she was a maid.

U.S. officials have said they think a woman was shot and killed at the house, but none of the Pakistanis interviewed recalled seeing a woman's body.

Pakistan has offered no detailed official version of what took place at the house or what authorities have learned from questioning its occupants. The information on the three wives came from a briefing for selected Pakistani journalists at the military's headquarters in Rawalpindi, a senior military official said.

Separately, a statement from the Pakistan military Thursday showed how badly the U.S. operation has ruptured relations with Islamabad, which appeared either incompetent or complicit, given the location of bin Laden's home in a mainstream part of the country, near military installations. Pakistan wasn't warned about the operation on its soil.

Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani told a meeting of top commanders that "any similar action, violating the sovereignty of Pakistan, will warrant a review on the level of military/intelligence cooperation with the United States." As a first step, Kayani decided, according to the statement, to reduce the number of American military "to the minimum essential."

(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

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