Five students at the University of California at Los Angeles and two geography professors actually came close to figuring out where Osama bin Laden was hiding for more than two years before he was killed by U.S. special forces.

How did they do it? According to the university’s Web site, students taking a class called “Rmote Sensing in the Environment” used remote sensing data, high-resolution satellite imagery and an analysis of life characteristics to figure out where he was most likely to be hiding.

Professors Thomas Gillespie and John Agnes developed a probability model that pointed to to a Pakistani city 230 miles from Abbottabad, the place where bin Laden was actually located. The model nevertheless predicted that “there was an 88.6 percent chance that Bin Laden would be found in the area where Abbottabad is located,” the Web site said.

Their thinking, published in a paper Feb. 17, 2009, in MIT International Review, included the notion that the 6-foot-4 bin Laden was not hiding in a mountain cave, as popular lore indicated, but rather in a tall building protected by high walls in or near a large town.

Gillespie said, according to the Web site, that when he saw photos of bin Laden’s hideout after the U.S. raid, he checked points that had been made in the paper and discovered that the researchers had been mostly on target.

The students and professors started their analysis in 2007, and all of the students have moved on, but Gillespie has heard from some of them since Sunday.

He said that he would rather be remembered for “planting a whole bunch of trees in Hawaii to get them off the federal endangered species list,” the UCLA Web site said.

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