ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Even in a neighborhood of roomy modern residences, the three-story white house stood out. The home, down the street from an elite Pakistani military academy, was eight times as large as others nearby. Its razor-wire-topped walls were higher. Its occupants acted mysteriously, neighbors said, burning trash rather than placing it outside.
With the Monday killing of Osama bin Laden, the mystery of who lived in the Abbottabad house was solved. And that resolution revealed that the world’s most wanted man had been living for years not only in relative comfort but also at the doorstep of Pakistan’s powerful army.
Four helicopters swooped in early Monday and killed Osama bin Laden in a fiery American raid on his fortress-like compound in a Pakistani town that is home to three army regiments. (May 2)
Chris Brummitt, AP bureau chief in Islamabad, Pakistan, talks about how the killing of Osama Bin Laden happened so close to several Pakistani military installations, and what his death could mean for U.S.-Pakistan relations. (May 2)
The meaning of bin Laden’s death
The disclosure threatened to unravel the remaining threads in a U.S.-Pakistan relationship that is severely strained by mistrust.
The scene of bin Laden’s killing immediately raised questions about how Pakistan’s powerful military, which U.S. officials have long suspected of tolerating and harboring Islamist militants, could not have known about his presence — and even whether it had provided him shelter. Bin Laden joined a long list of high-value terrorism figures captured or killed in recent years not in Pakistan’s remote tribal belt but in the sprawling urban centers in the heart of the country.
“Either we’re dealing with an extraordinarily incompetent military and army and intelligence agency, or at some level they were complicit,” said Shaun Gregory, a Pakistan scholar at the University of Bradford in England.
Abbottabad, the bucolic city just north of Islamabad where bin Laden had been hiding, has long been a refuge for tourists and a hub for Pakistan’s military, with two infantry regiments based there. Bin Laden’s home was in a neighborhood well traveled by military vehicles and full of military families.
In Washington, convictions deepened that Pakistan — which has accepted billions of dollars in military aid since allying itself with the United States in 2001 in counterterrorism efforts — was either uncommitted to the hunt for terrorists on its soil or betraying the United States by protecting them. U.S. officials have long said that bin Laden was in Pakistan, and Pakistan has long called on the United States to provide proof.
But in the end, after a decade-long hunt, it appeared that the United States did not trust Pakistan enough to do so. U.S. officials insisted that Pakistan was not told about the operation until U.S. forces had left Pakistani airspace.
Officials were cryptic about whether Pakistani intelligence had aided the operation in any way. The Pakistanis “were not aware of our interest in this compound, but they provided us information attached to it to help us complete the robust intelligence case that eventually carried the day,” said a senior U.S. intelligence official, who like other officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Basking in the glow of the successful operation, senior Obama administration officials tried hard to sidestep questions about possible Pakistani complicity in hiding bin Laden, while also acknowledging skepticism about Pakistan’s assertion that it had been in the dark.