Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad
Osama bin Laden's compound, known locally as the Waziristan Haveli (Urdu: وزیرستان حویلی), was an upper-class mansion that was used as a safe house for militant Islamist Osama bin Laden, who was shot and killed there by U.S. forces on May 2, 2011. The compound was located at the end of a dirt road 1,300 metres (0.8 mi) southwest of the Pakistan Military Academy in Bilal Town, Abbottabad, Pakistan, a suburb housing many retired military officers. Bin Laden was reported to have evaded capture by living in a section of the house for at least five years, having no Internet or phone connection, and hiding away from the public, who were allegedly unaware of his presence.
|Osama bin Laden|
CIA aerial view of Osama bin Laden's compound from east
Map of Pakistan showing the location of the compound
Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad (Pakistan)
|Alternative names||Bin Laden hideout compound|
|Location||Bilal Town, Abbottābad, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa|
|Elevation||1,260 m (4,130 ft)|
|Inaugurated||6 January 2006 (date bin Laden was believed to have moved in)|
|Demolished||26 February 2012|
|Cost||US$250,000–1,000,000+ (disputed) (Rs. 21.25–85 million)|
|Client||Osama bin Laden|
|Owner||Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, Mohammed Arshad|
|Roof||8.76 m (28.7 ft)|
|Floor area||3,500 square metres (38,000 sq ft)|
|Design and construction|
|Architecture firm||Modern Associates|
|Structural engineer||Gul Mohammed (wall builder), Noor Mohammad|
|Main contractor||Noor Mohammed|
Completed in 2005, the main buildings in the compound lay on a 3,500-square-metre (38,000 sq ft) plot of land, much larger than those of nearby houses. Its perimeter was 3.7- to 5.5-metre (12 to 18 ft) concrete walls topped with barbed wire, and there were two security gates. The compound had very few windows. Little more than five years old, the compound's ramshackle buildings were badly in need of repainting. The grounds contained a well-kept vegetable garden, rabbits, some 100 chickens and a cow. The house itself did not stand out architecturally from others in the neighbourhood, except for its size and exaggerated security measures; for example, the third-floor balcony had a 2-metre (7 ft) privacy wall. Photographs inside the house showed excessive clutter and modest furnishings. After the American mission, there was extensive interest in and reporting about the compound and its design. To date, the Pakistani government has not responded to any allegations as to who had built the structure.
After the September 11 attacks in 2001, the U.S. searched for bin Laden for nearly 10 years. By tracking his courier Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti to the compound, U.S. officials surmised that bin Laden was hiding there. During a raid on May 2, 2011, 24 members of the United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group arrived by helicopter, breached a wall using explosives, and entered the compound in search of bin Laden. After the operation was completed and bin Laden was killed, Pakistan demolished the structure in February 2012.
In the urban setting, the architecture of the bin Laden hideout was called by an architect as "surprisingly permanent – and surprisingly urban" and "sure to join Saddam Hussein's last known address among the most notorious examples of hideout architecture in recent memory". The compound was fortified with many safeguard features intended to confuse would-be invaders, and U.S. officials described the compound as "extraordinarily unique". Associated Press identified the owner as Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, who purchased the vacant land for the complex in 2004 and four adjoining lots between 2004 and 2005 for the equivalent of US$48,000.
Constructed between 2003 and 2005, the three-story structure was located on a dirt road 4 kilometres (2 mi) northeast of the city centre of Abbottābad. The local architect for the project said it was only built and planned for a two-story structure and that the third floor (where bin Laden lived) was built afterwards in an illegal construction. While the compound was assessed by U.S. officials at a value of US$1 million, local real estate agents assess the property value at US$250,000. Intelligence reports have indicated that bin Laden may have moved into the complex on 6 January 2006.
On a plot of land much larger than those of nearby houses, it was surrounded by 5.5-metre (18 ft) concrete walls topped with barbed wire. Apart from its size, it did not stand out from others in the neighborhood and it was not easily seen except from close by. The compound walls were higher than usual in the neighbourhood, although nearly all houses in Bilal Town have barbed wire. There were no phones or Internet wires running into the compound. Security cameras were found installed, and aerial photographs show several satellite dishes. There were two security gates and the third-floor balcony had a two meter (7 ft) privacy wall. The compound measured 3,500 square metres (38,000 sq ft) in size, and had relatively few windows.
The compound was known as Waziristan Haveli (Urdu: وزیرستان حویلی) by the local residents. The compound's casual name referred to Waziristan, a region in Pakistan, and a haveli, which means "mansion". It was owned by a transporter from Waziristan; bin Laden previously spent time in the Waziristan area of Pakistan.
One of the main builders of the compound, Gul Mohammed, was instructed to construct the 5.5-metre (18 ft) high perimeter fence and then to build another wall 2 metres (7 ft) tall around one of the dwellings. He became suspicious and when he asked about the huge, fort-like walls, he was told it was none of his business. According to Mohammed, one or two men came to supervise the project and they were not stingy with funds. He was told to refer to the main occupant of the household as "The Master" even though he never met him.
The house where the bin Laden family lived on the two upper floors was large and modestly furnished. It had "cheap foam mattresses, no air conditioning (but central heating) and old televisions." Several of the bedrooms had an attached kitchen and a bathroom. One of the first floor rooms was furnished with a whiteboard, markers and textbooks, to serve as a classroom for the children in the house, who were home-schooled in Arabic.
The self-described brothers of the house known to the neighbours would frequently visit the local shops. They would buy enough food to feed ten people, and purchased "the best brands—Nestle milk, the good-quality soaps and shampoos", Pepsi and Coca-Cola. The food found at the house by the Pakistani authorities was basic, such as dates, nuts, eggs, olive oil and dried meat. The brothers would visit Rasheed's corner store, about a minute's walk from the house, with young children for whom they bought sweets and soft drinks. They also purchased bread from a local bakery.
Rabbits, 100 chickens and a cow were reared on the compound grounds. A vegetable garden at the back of the house was well-kept, and Shamraiz, a neighbouring farmer, was paid to plant vegetables about twice a year. Days before the May 2011 raid Shamraiz was called to plough additional ground in the compound using a tractor. He never went inside the house itself.
The compound had an adjacent grazing area that hosted cows and a buffalo as well as a deep water well, possibly allowing it a water supply separate from the local municipality. There was a small garden on the north side of the house that included poplar trees. A farmer's field growing cabbages and potatoes surrounded the compound on three sides, and wild Cannabis plants grew up to the side of the compound.
Gulf News reported that it had previously been used as a safe house by Inter-Services Intelligence, but was no longer being used for this purpose. ISI alleged that this compound was raided in 2003 while under construction as Abu Faraj al-Libbi was suspected of living there. However, this account was disputed by American officials who said that satellite photos show that in 2004 the site was an empty field. The compound was believed to be built around the summer of 2005 to late 2006, based on local accounts, most likely completed in late 2005 as intelligence reports indicate Bin Laden may have moved into the house on 6 January 2006.
American intelligence officials discovered bin Laden's whereabouts by tracking one of his couriers, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti. Information was collected from Guantánamo Bay detainees who gave intelligence officers al-Kuwaiti's pseudonym and said that he was a protégé of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. In 2007, U.S. officials discovered the courier's real name, and, in 2009, that he lived in Abbottābad. Using satellite photos and intelligence reports, the CIA surveilled the inhabitants of the compound. In September, the CIA concluded that the compound was "custom built to hide someone of significance" and that it was very likely that bin Laden was residing there. Officials surmised that he was living there with his youngest wife. U.S. Intelligence estimates that bin Laden lived in the compound for five or six years. Bin Laden's wife confirmed to the Pakistani authorities that they had lived in the compound for five years. Prior to moving to the compound, they lived in the village of Chak Shah Muhammad, in the nearby Haripur District, for nearly two and a half years.
Operation Neptune Spear
Encounters between the SEALs and the residents took place in the guest house, in the main building on the first floor where two adult males lived, and on the second and third floors where bin Laden lived with his family.
The operation, code-named Operation Neptune Spear, was ordered by United States President Barack Obama and carried out in a U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operation by a team of United States Navy SEALs from the United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group (informally known as DEVGRU or by its former name SEAL Team Six) of the Joint Special Operations Command in conjunction with CIA operatives. The raid on the compound was launched from Afghanistan. After the raid, U.S. forces took bin Laden's body to Afghanistan for identification, then buried it at sea within 24 hours of his death.
After the event
Following the raid, the former hideout was placed under the security control of the Pakistan Police. Days after the raid, police allowed reporters and locals to approach the walls of the compound, but kept the doors sealed shut. There was intense media interest in the architecture of the compound. The construction included highly fortified walls made of concrete blocks with three gates, separating the building from the large courtyard and a garden planted with immature fruit trees in front of a collapsed wall. The remains of the Navy SEALs' helicopter that crashed during the U.S. operation were later removed from the site with a tractor.
Pakistan security agencies demolished the compound in February 2012 to prevent it from becoming a "sacred building for jihadis". In February 2013, Pakistan announced plans to build a R265 million ($2.7m) amusement park in the area, including the property of the former hideout.
Locals disclosed details about their interactions with the residents of the compound to an AP journalist in Pakistan. A woman who distributed polio vaccines to the compound said she saw expensive SUVs parked inside. The men received the vaccine and instructed her to leave. A woman in her 70s said one of the men from the hideaway gave her a ride to the market in rainy weather. Her grandchildren played with the children living in the house, and received rabbits as presents. One farmer said, "People were skeptical in this neighbourhood about this place and these guys. They used to gossip, say they were smugglers or drug dealers. People would complain that even with such a big house they didn't invite the poor or distribute charity." Present at some neighbourhood funerals, two men from the compound were "tall, fair skinned and bearded" and self-identified as cousins from elsewhere in the region. Neighbors said that if a child's ball went over the fence, the men in the compound did not return that ball; instead they paid the child 100–150 Pakistani rupees (about US$2–$3), many times the value of the ball.
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