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HindustanTimes Fri,31 Oct 2014

World

'Poor uncle' and cowboy: Osama's secret life in Pakistan
Agencies
Islamabad, July 09, 2013
First Published: 19:07 IST(9/7/2013)
Last Updated: 07:49 IST(10/7/2013)

Osama bin Laden lived undetected in Pakistan for nearly a decade due to failures and gross negligence by the authorities, according to a new report detailing how he was once stopped for speeding and wore a cowboy hat.

The leaked report from a Pakistani government-appointed commission reveals fascinating details about his life on the run and the US Navy SEALs raid that killed him on May 2, 2011.

The raid near a military academy in the town of Abbottabad was one of the most humiliating episodes in Pakistan's history, exposing the country to allegations of collusion with al Qaeda.

The government appointed a judicial commission to investigate how bin Laden hid for so long and how the US raid unfolded to fend off fears that a military investigation would not be independent.

The panel interviewed more than 200 people, including government ministers, intelligence chiefs and members of bin Laden's family before they were deported to Saudi Arabia.

But its findings were kept secret until the Al Jazeera news network published a leaked copy of the report on Monday.

"Culpable negligence and incompetence at almost all levels of government can more or less be conclusively established by the testimonies of witnesses," the report said.

The commission said it had found nothing to support allegations of complicity but neither could it rule out the possibility of "'plausibly deniable' support" from current or former officials.

The 336-page report coined the expression "governance implosion syndrome" to explain the extent of the failures.

It said bin Laden arrived in Pakistan in the spring or summer of 2002 after the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan.

He stayed in Afghan border areas, spent six to eight months in the northwestern district of Swat, lived in a spacious home in Haripur and then settled in Abbottabad in August 2005.

Maryam, the widow of one of two Pakistani couriers who provided his core support network said they -- including bin Laden -- were once all stopped for speeding on a visit to a market in Swat.

Her husband "very quickly settled the matter with the policeman and they drove on", the report said.

To avoid detection from the sky, bin Laden took to wearing a cowboy hat when moving about his compound in the city of Abbottabad, his wives told investigators.

In Swat, bin Laden was said to have met Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, in February 2003.

Muhammad was arrested by Pakistani authorities a month later but in 2005, the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency closed its file on the hunt for the al Qaeda boss.

It was a decision that showed "its lack of commitment to eradicating organised extremism, ignorance and violence which is the single biggest threat to Pakistan", the commission said.

In Abbottabad, it was an austere life and bin Laden paid the courier brothers just $90 a month.

Bin Laden occasionally complained of pain in the heart and kidneys, but never visited a doctor.

If he felt ill, he treated himself with traditional Arab medicine and "whenever he felt sluggish he would take some chocolate with an apple," the report said.

He was nicknamed Miskeen Kaka, or "poor uncle" by other children in the house after they were told the reason he never went to the market was because he was too poor to buy anything.

All the bin Laden women observed strict purdah, which started for his daughters at the age of three, and extended to not watching men on television.

He oversaw the religious education and play of his children and grandchildren "which included cultivating vegetable plots with simple prizes for best performances."

But for nearly six years, abnormalities at his villa, such as no television or telephone lines, no rubbish collection and 18-foot (5.5 metre) walls, failed to attract attention from Pakistani officialdom.

"How the entire neighbourhood, local officials, police and security and intelligence officials all missed the size, the strange shape, the barbed wire, the lack of cars and visitors etc over a period of nearly six years beggars belief," the report said.

"None of this negligence necessarily implied connivance. But it does suggest gross negligence at the very least," it added.

The report also contains dramatic details of the US helicopter raid recounted by the Al-Qaeda chief's family.

Bin Laden had retired to his room with the youngest of his three wives, Amal, when they were awakened by what "sounded like a storm" shortly after midnight.

Aware that the long-feared US threat was closing in, bin Laden stopped his wife from turning on a lamp and called for his son Khalid, while two of his daughters recited verses from the Koran.

Suddenly Amal saw a US soldier pointing his weapon at the terror chief from the landing outside their bedroom. She rushed at him as the soldier shouted "No! No!" and shot her in the knee.

One of bin Laden's daughters, Sumayya, said she saw her father dead on the floor, his face "clear and recognisable".

The report condemned the US raid as an "American act of war" and said the Pakistani military should have responded much more quickly to an operation 160 kilometres (100 miles) inside its territory.

It was Pakistan's "greatest humiliation" since East Pakistan seceded in 1971, it said.

Pakistani officials have so far declined to comment on the report.

(With inputs from AFP and Reuters)


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