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2 rooms, TV and a bored terror chief

world Updated: May 09, 2011 00:49 IST
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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.

American officials believe that Osama bin Laden spent many hours on the computer, relying on couriers to bring him thumb drives packed with information from the outside world.

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. An intelligence official said 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.

Abbottabad became Bin Laden family base in late 2005 and he never went out. He did not do chores either. The neighbours knew the family as Arshad Khan and Tariq Khan, the aliases of the courier and his brother. The Khans seemed pleasant enough, but they kept to themselves behind their 12-foot walls and barbed wires.

Little is known about how Bin Laden managed his relationships with his three wives. On the night he was killed, Bin Laden was in his bedroom with his youngest wife, Amal Ahmed Abdulfattah. There were nine children in the household, but it remained unclear how many belonged to Bin Laden.

Contrary to belief that Bin Laden was on dialysis, Pakistani investigators said his wife told them he was healthy. Although intelligence analysts are just beginning to pore over a huge trove of computer files, storage devices and cellphones recovered from the compound, they were eager to release the new videos, five in all, on Saturday.

They said they did not know when the video of Bin Laden watching himself on TV was recorded, but since there is a brief image of Obama on the screen, it appears to have been made sometime after Jan 2009.

Congressional officials said they were struck by how Bin Laden’s low-profile, low-tech lifestyle protected him. Senator Jack Reed said he was also struck how Bin Laden was not prepared for the kind of attack that was carried out. “No escape route, no tunnels, not even false rooms in the house in which to hide...It makes you wonder: at what point did that extra degree of vigilance he had get dulled by routine?, he said. NYT