The heavily-fortified complex, where bin Laden is believed to have lived with his children and three wives, was destroyed by Pakistani security forces in February, following his death at the hands of U.S. special forces in a raid on May 2, 2011.
While most of the physical reminders of bin Laden’s presence in the town have been destroyed, visitors have ensured the memory of the world’s most-wanted fugitive lives on a year after his death, despite resentment from locals seeking to move on.
Ghulam Nabi, a young bearded man, crouches over a broken pipe that lies at the foot of the demolished site, drinking water from the palms of his hands.
Nabi, taking a break from his work in the nearby fields, says he only lives a few minutes from bin Laden’s former hideout — once a two-story compound surrounded by high concrete walls, security gates, razor wire, and cameras.
The 20-year-old, who has lived in Abbottabad for the past eight months, says superstition lures dozens of daily visitors, whom he says consider the water at the compound “sacred.”
“Many people visit the compound daily, even from places like Lahore and Karachi,” he says. “I have never met them but I see them from my rooftop. Many of those people believe the water is holy.”
Nabi himself is skeptical of such claims.
“It’s just water from a broken water pipe,” he says. “For the people who visit the compound there is nothing for them to see so they drink the water and eat the herbs growing in the garden.”
The ‘Osama Cricket Stadium’
Not far from where Nabi is seated, three young boys are absorbed in a game of cricket — the country’s national sport.
The shabbily-dressed youngsters have made a field on the compound, where one of them swings a plank of wood, while the other two throw him pebbles, their substitutes for a bat and ball.
One of the boys, who declined to give his name, says the demolished site should be transformed into a playground.
“This place should be called the Osama Cricket Stadium,” he jokes. “This compound is the only place where we can play cricket. There are so many fields and houses in the area, so they should make a playground here.”
While these boys use the site for recreation, others trudge up to the compound every day in a bid to make some money, gathering scrap metal and concrete which they haul back to local bazaars.
For some of the children, the cash they receive in exchange for the materials is an essential contribution to their family’s livelihood.
When bin Laden’s compound was bulldozed by Pakistani authorities on February 25, many locals expressed relief that life would go back to normal.
Many were left increasingly frustrated by the tightened security that followed the raid on the compound, with locals having to go through numerous security checkpoints just to move through the town.
For Pakistan’s military establishment, the empty complex was a painful reminder of the unilateral operation that killed the former Al-Qaeda leader just a short distance away from one of Pakistan’s most prestigious military academies.
‘Just Hype And Drama’
Many locals remain tight-lipped when talking about bin Laden even today. But of those who do talk, many question whether he even lived in Abbottabad.
In one of the town center’s barber shops, men busily discuss conspiracy theories surrounding bin Laden’s death.
An elderly man, sipping tea in a couch, says bin Laden was a hero. But the man, speaking anonymously, suggests that he was killed a long time ago and was never in Abbottabad.
“Osama was killed three or four years ago,” he says. “The recent attack against the compound was just hype and drama. We [residents of Abbottabad] don’t believe he ever lived here.”
The old man adds that if bin Laden was indeed killed by U.S. forces, then evidence would have been brought forward.
He questions why bin Laden’s body was dumped out at sea and never photographed, adding that only hard evidence will change his mind and those of countless others.
Written by Frud Bezhan, based on reporting by Radio Mashaal correspondent Khalid Khan in Abbottabad, Pakistan
While he was expecting some call to mobilize his men and equipment he heard the news which transferred his life completely. The Americans are coming. He always describes that moment as shocking moment. He felt depressed and thought that maneuvers had to change. Instead of writing to the king or approaching other members of the royal family, he started lobbying through religious scholars and Muslim activists. He succeeded in extracting a fatwah from one of the senior scholars that training and readiness is a religious duty. He immediately circulated that fatwah and convinced people to have their training in Afghanistan. It was estimated that 4000 went to Afghanistan in response to the fatwah. The regime was not happy with his activities so they limited his movement to Jeddah only. He was summoned for questioning twice for some of his speeches and activities and was given warnings. To intimidate him, the regime raided his farm in the suburb of Jeddah by the National Guard. He was not there during the raid and was very angry when told. He wrote a letter of protest to Prince Abdullah. Abdullah apologized and claimed he is not aware and promised to punish who ever were responsible.
Osama was fed up with this almost house arrest situation and did not imagine himself able to stay in the country with the American forces around. One of his brothers was very close to King Fahad and also close to Prince Ahmed, deputy minister of interior. He convinced his brother that he needed to leave the country to sort out some business matters in Pakistan and come back. There was a difficult obstacle, the stubborn Prince Nayef, minister of interior. His brother waited until Nayef went in a trip outside the kingdom and extracted lifting the ban from prince Ahmed. When he arrived in Pakistan around April 1991 he sent a letter to his brother telling him that he is not coming back and apologized for letting him down with the royal family.
After his arrival to Pakistan he went straight to Afghanistan because he knew the Pakistani intelligence would hand him back to the Saudis. There, he attended the collapse of the communist regime and the consequent dispute between the Afghan parties. He spent great effort to arbitrate between them but with no success He ordered his followers to avoid any involvement in the conflict and told them it was a sin to side with any faction. During his stay the Saudis tried more than once to kidnap or kill him in collaboration with the Pakistani intelligence. His friends in the Saudi and Pakistani establishments would always leak the plan and make him ready for it. After his failure in sorting the Afghani dispute, he decided to leave Afghanistan. The only alternative country he had was Sudan. He left Afghanistan disguised in private jet only few months after his arrival. That was late 1991.
His choice of Sudan had nothing to do with jihad or “terrorism.” He was attracted to Sudan because of what was at that time an Islamic banner raised by the new regime in Sudan. He wanted to have good refuge as well as help the government in its construction projects. There was no intention from his side or from the Sudanese regime to have any military activity in Sudan. Indeed the Sudanese government refused even sending some of his followers to the front in the south. He was treated in Sudan as a special guest who wanted to help Sudan when everybody was turning away. In Sudan he mobilized a lot of construction equipment and enrolled himself in busy construction projects. He spent good effort in convincing Saudi businessmen to invest in Sudan and had reasonable success. Many of his brothers and Jeddah merchants had and still have investment in real estate, farming and agricultural industry. In Sudan he had again escaped an assassination attempt which turned out later to be the plan of Saudi intelligence.
During his stay in Sudan anti-American incidents happened in Somalia and South Yemen. Neither of the two incidents was performed by his group in the proper sense of chain of command. Both were performed by people who had training in Afghanistan and had enough anti-American drive. He might have given some sanctioning to the operations but one thing was certain, the Sudanese were completely unaware of either.
Between his arrival to Sudan and early 1994 he was not regarded publicly as Saudi opposition and Saudi citizens were visiting him without too much precautions. Only the well-informed people would know that he was classified as enemy to the Saudi regime. His assets were frozen sometime between 1992 and 1994 but that was not published. The Saudis decided to announce their hostility early 1994 when they publicized withdrawing his citizenship.
After long silence and tolerance, bin Laden replied by issuing a communiqué condemning the Saudi decision and saying that he does not need the “Saudi” reference to identify himself and it is not up to Al-Saud to admit or expel people from Arabian Peninsula. He then formed together with activists and scholars from the kingdom a group called “Advice and Reform Committee” (ARC). The ARC was, according to its communiqués and published agenda, a purely political group. The ARC published around 17 communiqués which might have contained harsh criticism of the Saudi regime and plenty of religious rhetoric but never contained reference for violence or incitment of violence.
The car bomb in spring 1995 in Riyadh was the first major anti-American action in the kingdom. Bin Laden never claimed responsibility, but the Saudi government tried to link the incident to bin Laden by showing video confessions of four “Arab Afghans” involved in the bombing.
Sudan was exposed to huge international pressure for hosting bin Laden and his followers, and bin Laden felt that he is becoming an embarrassment to the Sudanese. Early in 1996 he started making contacts with his old friends in Afghanistan to prepare for his reception. He fled Sudan in a very well planned trip with many of his followers to go straight to Jalalabad in Eastern Afghanistan.
When he arrived there, the situation in Afghanistan was very unsettled between the many factions, but he had very good relations with all factions and all would protect him. The area he arrived to was under control of Yunis Khalis, a very influential warlord who later on joined Taliban.
June 1996, after his arrival in Afghanistan was the Khobar bombing. Nobody claimed responsibility, but sources from inside the Saudi ministry of interior confirmed involvement of Arab Afghans, with possible link to bin Laden The Saudi government wanted to frame Shi’a, at the beginning but Americans were very suspicious of the Saudi story. Bin Laden himself never claimed responsibility but gave many hints that he might have been involved. The Saudi government has acknowledged recently that bin Laden’s men were behind the bombing.
- Abbottabad – One year after Osama bin Laden (photoblog.msnbc.msn.com)