It took nearly a decade after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, DC for U.S. intelligence agencies to realize that Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 plot, had not lurked in a cave or remote tribal area in Pakistan. For the last five years or so of his life as a fugitive, his home had been a large complex in Abbottabad, shared with several women and children and a handful of sympathizers. The location was barely a mile from the Pakistan Military Academy at Kakul.
How did the godfather of modern radical Islamic terrorism live during these years of enforced isolation? Very carefully.
1. Bin Laden chose to hide in plain sight
After September 11, the Bin Laden family spent several years on the run, moving from one friendly Pakistani location to another, including the border town of Peshawar and the rural Swat Valley, among others. When his supporters decided it was time for the family to settle down, they chose Abbottabad, which bin Laden had visited and enjoyed.
In 2004, his confidant Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed (war name: Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti) paid a total of $ 48,000 to acquire a handful of small contiguous lots which together comprised about an acre in a soggy field just to the north -is of downtown Abbottabad. According to authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark in their 2017 book Exile: the escape of Osama bin Laden, the man, calling himself Mohammad Arshad, claimed he was buying the land for an uncle fleeing a blood feud.
2. He had the compound tailor-made
“Arshad” hired a local architectural firm to develop plans for a large two-story building on the site, with very specific criteria. On the ground floor, the new villa has been designed with four bedrooms and three bathrooms, as well as a kitchen; the second floor had four more bedrooms and four bathrooms. A third floor was added later, write Levy and Scott-Clark; it would become Bin Laden’s living room, with a bedroom, an office, a small bathroom and a kitchen.
The size of the new house was unusual, as was its relative lack of windows. But the features that amazed the locals were its walls. “Arshad” asked a local builder to build a 7 foot high wall around one of the buildings, then an 18 foot high thick wall around the entire complex, topped with a razor wire. . This intrigued the builder, both because the neighborhood in the town of Bilal was safe and peaceful, and because it was significantly higher than what the architect’s plans anticipated. “Arshad” warned him that if he asked more questions he would be fired. The personalization went as far as the application of an anti-spy film on the windows of the upper floors.
3. It is not known how many people lived there
The complex became known to locals as Waziristan Haveli, or Waziristan House / Mansion, due to the waziri accents of “Arshad” and his brother, Ibrahim. The two men – mainstays of Al Qaeda who would serve as bin Laden’s main messengers, guardians, helpers and buffers to the outside world, moved in first, along with their families. At the end of 2005, Bin Laden and at least three of his wives and several young children had arrived and had been settled. Bin Laden’s older children and their spouses and children came and went over the next half-dozen years.
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4. They lived in extreme isolation and self-sufficiency
Life in the Abbottabad hideout was designed to be as self-sufficient and self-sufficient as possible, to minimize contact with the outside world. The resort lacked a phone or internet service – too easy to follow – but had satellite dishes allowing residents to watch the old televisions that were there later.
Residents burned their garbage rather than putting it for collection. Bin Laden’s son Khalid did much of the maintenance, and the compound had chickens, goats, rabbits, bees, cows and vegetable gardens. Bin Laden’s grandchildren, whom he himself educated, took part in market gardening competitions for small prizes he awarded.
Bin Laden’s family lived in isolation even from the al-Kuwaiti brothers and their families, with a locked metal door at the bottom of the stairwell leading to the terrorist’s rooms. Only the two couriers left the compound on a regular basis – to run errands, go to the mosque and occasionally attend funerals, weddings or other local ceremonies. Even local children have been banned from entering the compound. When a boy accidentally kicked a ball over the perimeter fence, bin Laden’s entourage gave him more than double the amount needed to get a new ball, rather than to let him recover the lost ball.
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5. Their lives were austere, with western touches
Residents of the resort lived frugally, without air conditioning during hot summers and sleeping on foam mattresses. Bin Laden’s wardrobe included three Pakistani-style outfits for summer and three more for winter, and a single sweater.
But when the al-Kuwaiti brothers made their way to local bazaars, they did not only stock up on naan bread and basic items, but also Coca-Cola, Pepsi and candy, the store owners later said. The compound was stocking brand name drugs, including Calpol, a UK brand of pain and fever medication for children. Bin Laden’s computer included downloads of popular Disney movies and American video games. The terrorist leader even kept a stash of Just for Men hair dye to cover the gray of his hair and beard.
READ MORE: 9 Unexpected Things Navy SEALS Discovered At Osama Bin Laden Complex
6. Bin Laden is confined to a small space
Two of the rooms on the upper floors became Bin Laden’s media center. On the back of a door, he hung the thobe (an Arab man’s robe) that he wore while filming videos to distribute to subscribers. A snub-nosed Kalashnikov, a memento of his days fighting Russian invaders in Afghanistan, rested on a shelf above the door. Yellow floral curtains shielded the room from curious glances, and the walls were filled with hundreds of tapes (audio and video) neatly organized in rows.
Bin Laden has devoted hours every day to monitoring the news of the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, disturbed only by the din of the young children of the compound. Eventually, he rebelled against the confinement indoors, sending his son Khalid to buy him a wide-brimmed hat, like a cowboy hat, that would obscure his features if he went out late in the day. Khalid also oversaw the construction of a gazebo and trellis that would prevent a satellite from getting a clear image of its face or physique.
7. They used tricks to evade local authorities
The al-Kuwaiti brothers disguised the number of people who lived in the compound by ensuring that no less than four separate electricity meters were installed. Yet a Pakistani commission of inquiry, whose report was later obtained by Al Jazeera, concluded that bin Laden “was fortunate enough not to meet anyone who was committed to doing his job honestly, otherwise there was a complete collapse of local governance “. The local authority sold the first plots of land without verifying the identity of the buyer, and no one went ahead with building a third-floor addition without a building permit.
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8. Bin Laden’s messengers wanted
Even as the Americans prepared to launch their attack on the complex, relations were breaking within its walls. Exhausted from meeting the needs of a fluctuating but ever-increasing number of confined bin Laden family members and those of their own growing families, the al-Kuwaiti brothers issued an ultimatum to the al-Qaeda leader. They would start looking for loyalists to replace them in their roles as secretary / guard / courier / liaison with the outside world – and Osama would agree not to add a fourth woman to the household or otherwise increase the number of those whose brothers were. responsible. .
Before the conflict was fully resolved and a new routine was established, the SEAL Six team arrived by helicopter on the night of May 2, 2011, and Osama, the al-Kuwaiti brothers, and some of their family were dead.