Secrecy was bin Laden's protection

2011-05-04 19:05
Abbottabad - Osama bin Laden escaped detection for years in Pakistan's leafy suburbia without obvious security, bodyguards or a stash of weapons - precautions that would have blown his low profile.

Once they smashed the compound's gate, American forces on the daring mission to kill the al-Qaeda chief appeared to face little resistance within the house in Abbottabad, a garrison city just a couple of hours from the capital.

"I saw foreign troops running in the streets and dropped by helicopters, storming into the compound by smashing doors," Mohammad Qasim, a close neighbour of the targeted house, said.

"Then we heard some gunshots, we heard women and children screaming, and then a blast and a huge fire. Then the Americans left."

The White House has clarified that bin Laden himself was not armed but said he tried to resist before he was shot dead in the six-bedroom house, where local police officer Qamar Hayat said blood was found in two rooms.

Footage obtained by the US network ABC inside the Abbottabad house showed blood on the floor in one room and broken computers in another, stripped of their hard drives.

No commando

While there were some small arms found in the property - as in many others in Pakistan - it seems the terrorist mastermind had tactically opted to keep a low profile by eschewing tight security.

"There was no commando to defend bin Laden inside the house," a local police official said on condition of anonymity.

In the relatively rich and liberal neighbourhood, the men and women of the house clearly wanted to stay low-key despite drawing some attention for their conservatism: To have had an additional team would draw much more attention.

"The best way to remain undetected is to keep no security," said Al-Qaeda expert Imtiaz Gul, a Pakistani journalist and writer.

"The more security there is, the more suspicions there will be. It was a very calculated move to have minimum security."

Analyst Hasan Askari agreed. "You are detected by satellite if you have guns. Low security means non-visibility," he said.

Normal house

Moreover "there was no bunker, nor any other secret place where one could hide", said Hayat, who visited the house after the Americans and the Pakistani army had swept through.

"The belongings of the residents were intact. There were routine household items like dishes, beds, mattresses, tables, chairs and other furniture. It looked like a normal house."

With basic architecture, chipped paintwork and set in the middle of grass and vegetable patches, the residence was less luxurious than some others in the area, Hayat said.

The most noticeable difference was its size - three times that of most homes in the suburb - and the thick, high walls topped with barbed wire.

Aside from that, it was only secrecy that protected the al-Qaeda leader.

It is unknown how long he had been living in the house, built on land bought by one of his Pakistani accomplices, Arshad Khan, who a neighbour said moved in during the summer of 2005.

Location a surprise to the world

The Americans say they pinpointed the location in the summer of 2010.

The choice of Abbottabad, an easily accessible city littered with Pakistani army camps, has surprised the world.

In recent years, many believed bin Laden was taking refuge in remote tribal areas around the Afghan border, a stronghold of the Taliban.

At the caves of Tora Bora in late 2001 after the September 11 attacks, his ties with Pashtun tribes in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan enabled him to slip through the fingers of the Americans and across the border into Pakistan.

In Abbottabad, he may have been able to count on complicity from some in Pakistan's security apparatus, which is accused in the West of playing a double game despite being an official ally in the "war on terror".

The United States and Pakistan have both denied that Islamabad was warned ahead of the raid.

Any means necessary

"It was decided that any effort to work with the Pakistanis could jeopardise the mission: They might alert the targets," said CIA chief Leon Panetta.

Bin Laden's ability to go unnoticed for so long was less to do with location and more the secrecy of his inner circle, said one Western security official.

"The Americans would anyway have used all means necessary," she said.

"If it was inaccessible (from the ground) with a guard, they could have done it with a missile. And in that case, all security measures in the world would have been useless."

Read more on:    al-qaeda  |  osama bin laden  |  pakistan  |  us  |  security
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