A shrine for Osama?

2011-05-05 11:04

Abbottabad, Pakistan – Pakistan faces the prospect of Osama bin

Laden’s final hiding place becoming a shrine or macabre tourist spot unless the

military destroys a compound attracting hundreds of visitors a day.

While the Americans eased the body of the al-Qaeda chief into the

Arabian Sea, determined no grave should become a memorial to the militant, the

home where he spent his last days is already an object of fascination.

“It is a monument now,” said construction supervisor Mohammed Fayaz

(32) a resident in the leafy suburb of Abbottabad, the garrison city where US

Special Forces swooped in by helicopter and shot dead Bin Laden minutes


Reading a local newspaper, with a picture of the notorious compound

splashed across the front page, Fayaz expressed fears of militant attacks in

what has long been regarded as one of Pakistan’s most peaceful cities.

“The whole world will come to see it,” he said. “This could be

dangerous for us because anything could happen.”

The spacious house with thick, towering walls topped off with

barbed wire – albeit less luxurious than some neighbouring residences – has

already been earmarked on Google Maps in the “historical landmark”


“No street view but loved the seclusion and ‘terrorist themed’

hotel rooms,” joked one among more than a thousand fake reviews on the


Outside the residence, the world’s media have descended en masse to

try to piece together Bin Laden’s final moments.

Crowds of locals have gathered

to see it for themselves – many sceptical of the official version of


Women in colourful Pakistani attire, some of them from the wealthy

surrounding areas, mingle with children playing and joking, some of the

youngsters calling: “Hey, what’s going on Osama?” to any passer-by with a


But for local officials, the fate of the house is a more serious


“More and more people are coming,” Mohammad Saleem, a senior police

officer at the site told AFP. “We have no way to know who’s a potential Osama

supporter and who’s not”.

So far, there had been no trouble, he said.

Today, troops and police seemed to have given up trying to stop

people getting to the location, as they had done in previous days.

People parked their cars just a few hundred metres away, weaving

their way on foot across the fields right up to the walls, while correspondents

filed live reports in front of the guarded, sealed gates.

Pakistan’s military spokesperson was not reachable to discuss plans

for the compound, but troops fighting against Taliban and al-Qaeda affiliates in

the tribal belt routinely destroy the homes of militants.

That the compound lies less than two kilometres from the Pakistan

Military Academy – the country’s equivalent of West Point and Sandhurst – makes

it even less likely that the armed forces would want to keep the villa


After insisting they did not realise that Bin Laden had been living

under their noses, the house stands as a public testament to their


Zaheer ul-Islam, the district administration chief, said

authorities would not prevent visitors because “the more you forbid, the more

people try to do it”.

“It can never become a shrine or a visiting place for Osama bin

Laden’s supporters because they know that this is a highly sensitive area and

neither the military nor us will allow such activity,” he said.

Rumours have circulated for several days that the house will be

destroyed, but opinions at the scene were mixed.

In a country where 31% of men and 41% of women aged 15 to 24 are

illiterate, others have even suggested it be put to good use.

“Some say it should be closed forever, others that is should be

demolished. My opinion is that is should be converted into a school,” said

Ghulam Abbas, the head of police at the site.

But Professor Khurshid Ahmed, vice-president of the Pakistani

Islamist political party Jamaat-i-Islami, suggested fears about a shrine missed

the point.

“It’s not a question of place, it’s a question of idea,” he said.

“Whether we like it or not, Osama has become a symbol, for good or worse.”

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.