PESHAWAR: Investigators engaged in piecing together the life of Osama bin Laden since his dramatic escape from Afghanistan’s Tora Bora mountains have discovered the Al Qaeda chief had been living in Pakistan’s urban centres longer than they had thought.
They have also discovered that contrary to a widely held belief that the 54-year-old Al Qaeda leader required dialysis to treat his chronic kidney ailment, OBL was hale and hearty. The startling claims, according to two officials interviewed for this report, were made by Osama bin Laden’s 29-year-old Yemeni widow, one of the three widows in Pakistani custody.
Amal, according to officials familiar with the investigations, said that before moving to his sprawling compound in Bilal Town, Abbottabad, towards the end of 2005, Osama bin Laden had lived with his family in Chak Shah Mohammad Khan, a village in the nearby district of Haripur, for nearly two and a half years.
Chak Shah Mohammad, situated on the highway to Abbottabad, is two kilometres to the southeast of Haripur town.
In retrospect that meant, one of the officials observed, Osama had left the country’s tribal region sometime in 2003 to live in a settled area.
For years, since Osama’s disappearance in 2001 from Tora Bora to escape a US-led dragnet in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province, both Pakistani and American officials believed that Osama was hiding in the tribal region straddling the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
“Imagine, this guy was living in our midst in Haripur and Abbottabad for seven and a half years and we all, both Pakistanis and Americans, had been looking for him in the wrong direction,” one official remarked.
It appears now that some of the diehard Al Qaeda elements had chosen to live in the relatively secure environs of Haripur and Abbottabad away from the prying eyes of intelligence agencies.
In May 2009, police had arrested Abdullah al Masri from Malikyar village. Three days later, diehard militants attacked the police on guard at the house occupied by Al Masri’s two wives and killed three policemen. One of the assailants, a Pakistani identified as Ijaz, son of Sadiq of Malikpura, Abbottabad, was also killed in the attack.
Interestingly enough, Umar Patek, an Indonesian involved in the Bali bombing of 2002, was also arrested from Malikpura, Abbottabad. Indonesian authorities are now saying that Patek, arrested by a Pakistani intelligence agency in March, wanted to meet Osama bin Laden not far from where the Al Qaeda leader lived.
Patek was wanted for masterminding the Bali bombing that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.
Amal, who according to these officials, spent the last night with her husband and gave an account of what had transpired, told investigators that she had just moved with her husband to their bedroom and switched off the lights when they heard gunshots.
Before Osama could reach out for his Kalashnikov, the Navy SEALS team burst in and shot at her husband, confirming again that he was unarmed.
She too got a bullet in her leg and was wounded while trying to resist the intruding Americans, she added.
She said that Osama bin Laden, along with his children and grandchildren, had moved from Haripur to Abbottabad towards the end of 2005. The land in Bilal Town, said a government official, was bought by Mohammad Arshad on Jan 22, 2004, on the strength of a forged national identity card and wrong address.
Situated in the middle of an agriculture land, the compound where Osama bin Laden lived was built in 2005, soon after the devastating earthquake that hit the country’s northern regions.
Arshad and his brother Tariq, natives of Shangla district adjoining Swat, had been among Osama bin Laden’s trusted lieutenants, lived and accompanied the Al Qaeda leader and fronted for him. They would run errands for him, too, Amal told investigators.
Little is known about the Kuwaiti-born Shangla brothers other than their father, who also lived and worked in Kuwait, had known Bin Laden. Their relationship and trust in each other, an official said, had a history of thirty to forty years.
Incidentally, the official said, OBL’s son, who was also killed in action along with his father, was married to one of the sisters of Shangla brothers. Those children lived alongside the children and grandchildren of Osama bin Laden.
The Shangla brothers, the official added, were the two other men killed in Operation Geronimo.
Amongst those left behind by the evacuating Navy Seals were Osama’s three wives, two of them highly educated Saudis, his elder son and four children of a daughter who was killed in a drone strike in Waziristan, the officials said.
They also included Osama’s Abbottabad-born five-year-old son and 22-year-old daughter, the officials added.
Who helped and facilitated Osama’s movement from the tribal region to the cities of Pakistan is also the subject of investigations, one official said.
But it was a cleric picked up by security forces from one of the tribal regions who had initially pointed the finger towards Abbottabad, thus causing the Pakistani and American intelligence operatives to focus more closely on the garrison city, that houses the prestigious Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul.
HALE AND HEARTY: Amal, the youngest of Osama’s three wives also told investigators that her husband was hale and hearty and had recovered from his kidney ailment. “He was not on dialysis,” the official said.
Osama’s Yemeni wife told investigators that he had undergone two kidney surgeries in Afghanistan’s south-western Kandahar province during Taliban regime and had recovered thereafter, using homemade medications including water melons.
“He was neither weak nor frail,” one of the officials quoted Amal as saying, debunking widely held belief that Osama used dialysis to treat his kidney ailment. Some reports had gone as far as claiming that Osama had died due to kidney failure. “He believed in his own medication,” his wife told investigators.
A senior security official said that information gleaned from the widow had not been shared with the Americans so far.