WASHINGTON — The world’s most wanted terrorist lived his last five years imprisoned behind the barbed wire and high walls of his home in Abbottabad, Pakistan, his days consumed by dark arts and domesticity.
Videos seized from Bin Laden’s compound and released by the Obama administration on Saturday showed him wrapped in an old blanket watching himself on TV, like an aging actor imagining a comeback. A senior intelligence official said other videos showed him practicing and flubbing his lines in front of a camera. He was interested enough in his image, the official said, to dye his white beard black for the recordings
His once-large entourage of Arab bodyguards was down to one trusted Pakistani courier and the courier’s brother, who also had the job of buying goats, sheep and Coca-Cola for the household. While his physical world had shrunk to two indoor rooms and daily pacing in his courtyard, Bin Laden was still revered at home — by his three wives, by his children and by the tight, interconnected circle of loyalists in the compound.
He did not do chores or tend to the cows and water buffalo on the south side of the compound like the other men. The household, American officials figure, knew how important it was for him to devote his time to Al Qaeda, the terrorist organization he founded and was still actively running at the time of his death.
American officials say there is much they do not know about the last years of Bin Laden, who was shot dead byNavy Seal commandos last Monday in his third-floor bedroom, and the peculiar life of the compound. But what has emerged so far, in interviews with United States and Pakistani military and intelligence officials and Bin Laden’s neighbors in the middle-class hamlet where he had been hiding, is a portrait of an isolated man, perhaps a little bored, presiding over family life while plotting mayhem — still desperate to be heard, intent on outsize influence, musing in his handwritten notebooks about killing more Americans.
“My father would not look forward to staying indoors month after month, because he is a man who loves everything about nature,” Omar bin Laden, a son of Bin Laden, said in an e-mail message in 2009. “But if I were to say what he would need to survive, I would say food and water. He would go inward and occupy himself with his mind.”
Osama bin Laden was still actively involved in planning and directing al Qaida’s terror plots at the time he was killed, US officials have said.
The claims were made as a number of candid videos seized at the secret Pakistani compound where the terror mastermind was shot dead were released by the Pentagon.