US forces kill Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan
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More details are emerging of how al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden was found and killed at a fortified compound on the outskirts of Abbottabad in north-west Pakistan.
The compound is a few hundred metres from the Pakistan Military Academy, an elite military training centre, which is being described as Pakistan’s equivalent to Britain’s Sandhurst or the West Point academny in the US.
There were conflicting reports about the compound’s distance from the academy, with Pakistan’s military saying they are as much as 4km (2.4 miles) apart.
In any case the compound lies well within Abbottabad’s military cantonment, and it is likely the area would have had a constant and significant military presence and checkpoints.
Pakistan’s army chief is a regular visitor to the academy, where he attends graduation parades.
The operation against Osama Bin Laden began at about 2230 (1730 GMT) and lasted about 45 minutes, military sources told BBC Urdu. Two or three helicopters were seen flying low over the area. Witnesses say they caused panic among local residents.
One report of the operation emerged in real-time: Sohaib Athar, an IT consultant living in Abbottabad, posted on Twitter at about 0100 (2100 GMT) that a helicopter was hovering above the city.
He continued tweeting as the operation unfolded before eventually realising: “Uh oh, now I’m the guy who liveblogged the Osama raid without knowing it.
Barbed wire and cameras
The target of the operation was the compound, which had at its centre a large three-storey building.
The city is known as “city of pines”- is a small town nestled in the beautiful lush, green hills of north-west Pakistan.It is an agricultural community, but with a population of about 120,000, it provides a centre for many of the neighbouring villagesIt is a military garrison town and has one of Pakistan’s most prestigious training academiesIt takes its name from British Major James Abbott who founded it in 1853 after he annexed the Punjab area
When the helicopters landed outside, men emerged from the aircraft. The raid was conducted by a special team of US Navy Seals.
People living in the area, known as Thanda Choha, told BBC Urdu that they were commanded in Pashto to switch off their lights and not to leave their homes.
Shortly afterwards residents said they heard shots being fired and the sound of heavy firearms.
At some point in the operation one of the helicopters crashed, either from technical failure or having been hit by gunfire from the ground.
The compound was about 3,000 sq yds in size but people from the area told the BBC that it was surrounded by 14ft-high walls, so not much could be seen of what was happening inside.
The walls were topped by barbed wire and contained cameras.
There were two security gates at the house and no phone or internet lines running into the compound.
After the operation witnesses said all they could see was fire snaking up from inside the house.
Osama Bin Laden did resist the assault and was killed in battle, US officials told White House reporters.
AdvertisementFootage from inside Bin Laden’s compound
The officials described the operation as a “surgical raid” and said three adult males, including Bin Laden’s adult son. But, they added, a woman who was being used as a shield was also killed.
According to local residents speaking to BBC Urdu the forces conducting the operation later emerged from the compound, possibly with somebody who had been inside.
They said that women and children were also living in the compound.
One local resident told the BBC Urdu that the house had been built by a Pashtun man about 10 or 12 years ago. The resident said that none of the locals were aware of who was really living there. However, the New York Times said US officials believed that the house was specially built in 2005.
According to one local journalist, the house was known in the area as Waziristani Haveli – or Waziristan Mansion.
The journalist said it was owned by people from Waziristan, the mountainous and inhospitable semi-autonomous tribal area close to the Afghan border, which until now most observers believed to be Bin Laden’s hiding place.
This house was in a residential district of Abbottabad’s suburbs called Bilal Town and known to be home to a number of retired military officers from the area.
Intelligence officials in the US are quoted by AP as saying that the house was custom-built to harbour a major “terrorist” figure.
Police walk past the compound where the battle took place
As details of the raid emerged it became clear that the operation had been long in the planning. US officials said they received intelligence that Osama Bin Laden might be in that compound as long ago as last summer.
CIA experts analysed whether the “high value target” living at the compound could be anyone else but they decided in the end that it was almost certainly Bin Laden.
US intelligence agents focussed in particular on one of Bin Laden’s couriers – a man identified as a protege of captured al-Qaeda commander Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
He appeared to be one of the few couriers completely trusted by Osama Bin Laden, who helped keep the al-Qaeda figurehead in touch with the rest of the world.
For years US intelligence had been unable to name the courier. But four years ago they worked out who he was and two years later they discovered where he operated.
It was only in August 2010 that they located him in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
US officials described as “extraordinary” the security measures in the Abbottabad compound – among them high walls and barricades, very few windows, and a 7ft high privacy wall on the second floor.
After the US attack Pakistani troops arrived at the scene and began securing the area.