WASHINGTON - US forces finally found al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden not in the rugged mountains of Afghanistan's border, but in a million-dollar compound in an upscale suburb of Pakistan's capital, with his youngest wife, US officials said on Monday.
They were led to the fortress-like three-story building after more than four years tracking one of bin Laden's most trusted couriers, whom US officials said was identified by men captured after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
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"Detainees also identified this man as one of the few al Qaida couriers trusted by bin Laden. They indicated he might be living with or protected by bin Laden," a senior administration official said in a briefing for reporters.
Bin Laden was finally found - more than 9-1/2 years after the 2001
attacks on the United States - after authorities discovered in August
2010 that the courier lived with his brother and their families in an
unusual and extremely high-security building, officials said.
"When we saw the compound where the brothers lived, we were shocked by
what we saw: an extraordinarily unique compound," a senior
administration official said.
"The bottom line of our collection and our analysis was that we had high
confidence that the compound harbored a high-value terrorist target.
The experts who worked this issue for years assessed that there was a
strong probability that the terrorist who was hiding there was Osama bin
Laden," another administration official said.
The home is in Abbotabad, a town about 35 miles (60 km) north of
Islamabad, that is relatively affluent and home to many retired members
of Pakistan's military.
The building, about eight times the size of other nearby houses, sat on a
large plot of land that was relatively secluded when it was built in
2005. When it was constructed, it was on the outskirts of Abbotabad's
center, at the end of a dirt road, but some other homes have been built
nearby in the six years since it went up, officials said.
Intense security measures included 12- to 18-foot (3.6 meters to 5.5
meters) outer walls topped with barbed wire and internal walls that
sectioned off different parts of the compound, officials said. Two
security gates restricted access, and residents burned their trash,
rather than leaving it for collection as did their neighbors, officials
Few windows of the three-story home faced the outside of the compound,
and a terrace had a seven-foot (2.1 meter) privacy wall, officials said.
"It is also noteworthy that the property is valued at approximately $1
million but has no telephone or Internet service connected to it," an
administration official said. "The brothers had no explainable source of
U.S. analysts realized that a third family lived there in addition to
the two brothers, and the age and makeup of the third family matched
those of the relatives - including his youngest wife - they believed
would be living with bin Laden.
"Everything we saw, the extremely elaborate operational security, the
brothers' background and their behavior and the location of the compound
itself was perfectly consistent with what our experts expected bin
Laden's hide-out to look like," another Obama administration official
A small US team conducted a helicopter raid on the compound on Sunday
afternoon, officials said. After 40 minutes of fighting, bin Laden and
an adult son, one unidentified woman and two men - identified as the
courier and his brother - were dead, officials said, and Obama was
preparing a television address to the nation.
Abbotabad is a popular summer resort, located in a valley surrounded by
green hills near Pakistani Kashmir. Islamist militants, particularly
those fighting in Indian-controlled Kashmir, used to have training camps
near the town.