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."

  • kurtvs - 2011-05-04 20:10


  • DaNoon - 2011-05-04 20:16

    They say Bin Laden was unarmed including everybody in the house, so why did they kill him then? Why not take him into custody & show him to the world? Just doesn't make sense, then to top it all, they threw his body in the see! He's not dead!

      SAJoe - 2011-05-04 20:37

      You're dead right! He's alive and living with Elvis and JFK at Graceland.

      FerretGee - 2011-05-04 20:55

      Please. If Bin Laden was taken alive, every Islamist fundamentalist would have a) tried to rescue him b) taken American/British hostages and videod themselves cutting off their heads and posting it all over the internet and TV stations. Bin Laden was a murdering fanatic who had no qualms about killing innocent people who got in his way. Who cares whether he was armed or not, he cared squat about anyone elses human rights, so why should he be treated any differently?

      DaNoon - 2011-05-04 21:18

      Ooh!!! Come on guys! He's not dead! Wouldn't you like to see some concrete evidence that he's dead? At least photos of his corpse!

      brinjal - 2011-05-04 22:20

      Yes so were the people in the WTC unarmed. WELL DONE USA!!!

  • SAJoe - 2011-05-04 20:35

    If you read the Economist's account of this, this article is bollocks. This house was within waving distance of Pakistan's military academy equivalent of West Point or Sandhurst. The Pakistani police made frequent sweeps of residents in the area, checking ID's and sometimes looking into houses. The Pakitani chief of staff said recently from the said military academy that Pakistan harboured no terrorists. Bin Ladened obviously needed no guards because he was assured of protection. The rest of the world says elements of the Pakistani military and security services are suspect and its not rocket science to see why. They probably killed Benazir Bhutto and the current Pakistani government is clearly too scared to act against them.

  • Bro leader - 2011-05-05 09:43

    Secrecy, no security, no pic of a dead terrorist. Am beginning to wonder who the Americans have killed in that house. Anyway, it wont be the first time as many people around the world have been killed by their troops in "error" (remember the 9 kids bombed in Afgan).

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