Wed, May 04, 2011 - Page 5 News List

DEATH OF BIN LADEN: Residents of Abbottabad stunned by US operation

NY Times News Service,ABBOTTABAD, PAKISTAN

Soldiers keep guard yesterday around the compound in which al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed on Monday in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Photo: Reuters

The sprawling compound where Osama bin Laden sheltered before his death stood out in its middle-class neighborhood on the edges of scenic Abbottabad, home to a large Pakistani military base and a military academy.

The compound is about eight times the size of most homes in the area and was surrounded by high walls topped with barbed wire. Nearby residents noticed that few people ever ventured out of the house.

Still, nearby residents in the area called Bilal Town, where many retired and serving military officials live, said they were not suspicious of the house’s occupants and never suspected a high-level militant leader might be living there.

Some said they assumed the occupants mainly kept to themselves because they were religious, although even in most devout Pakistani families men regularly socialize with other men.

Jibran Khan, 23, who lives near Bilal Town, said he had seen the huge house several times and never imagined that bin Laden would be hiding there, assuming that a wealthy person had simply decided to settle on the large piece of property with a view of the hills that surround the town.

Khan said he had never met the people who lived in the house, but knew others who did.

“A friend told me that some tall, bearded men lived in the house, who said they had come to Abbottabad from Peshawar some years ago due to some enmity,” Khan said.

He said his friend, who ran into the men at a local bakery, told him they appeared to be Pakistanis and were always very courteous.

On Monday, the Pakistan army put up barricades to block access to all roads and alleys that lead to the house and barred journalists from going near it.

Residents outside the police cordon said they knew something unusual was happening when they heard helicopters hovering overhead at about midnight on Sunday and heard gunfire. Several said they spotted three helicopters. After one of the aircraft crashed, they said, another flew close to the hideout just before a huge blast rattled the neighborhood.

A doctor, who lives about 3km from the compound said that people in the town were stunned by the news — and disturbed by the continuing violence in the country.

Much of the picturesque town was built by the British as a resort and it remains a popular destination for tourists looking for a stop on the way north from Islamabad to go hiking in the mountains. The doctor, who like other members of his family spoke on condition of anonymity, likened his own home to the Little House on the Prairie and said many residents of the town were well-educated.

His teenage daughter seemed somewhat nonplussed.

“This is the last place we thought he’d be hiding,” she said. “It’s Abbottabad, for crying out loud. Nothing ever really happens here.”

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