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Bin Laden in Pakistan, potent but past his prime

Surrounded by the din of his multiple families within walls that were both his sanctuary and prison, Osama bin Laden pecked endlessly at a computer, issuing directives to his scattered and troubled terrorist empire. It's not clear who really listened.

world Updated: May 14, 2011 23:11 IST

Surrounded by the din of his multiple families within walls that were both his sanctuary and prison, Osama bin Laden pecked endlessly at a computer, issuing directives to his scattered and troubled terrorist empire.

It's not clear who really listened.

Stage big attacks causing mass casualties, he told al Qaeda operatives and affiliates.

They mostly went for smaller-scale attacks.

The latest intelligence from the wealth of material found at bin Laden's last hideout paints a complicated picture of the fugitive, both deeply engaged in his life's violent mission and somewhat out to pasture.

Inside the Abbottabad, Pakistan, compound, he kept busy scheming plots, rehearsed and recorded propaganda and dispatched couriers to distant internet cafes to conduct his email traffic, using computer flash drives to relay messages he would write and store from his shabby office. He dyed his gray beard black to keep up appearances for the videos.

To US officials, who possess bin Laden's handwritten personal journal as well as an enormous cache of his digital documents, the still-unfolding discoveries show he was more involved in trying to plan al Qaeda's post-Sept 11 operations than they had thought possible for a man in perpetual hiding.

Even so, he was disconnected from his organisation in real time, lacking phones or the Internet at his hideout and with loyalists hunted at every turn.

Essential elements of a command and control function from Abbottabad appear to be missing.

A discovered video shows him channel surfing with a tiny TV while wrapped in a wool blanket, wearing a knit cap and looking anything but content.

Toward its own propaganda ends, the US released selective excerpts of these odd home movies, choosing clips that only show the prince of jihad in an unflattering, even pathetic, light.

For a man working from home, there seemed to be many distractions.

The US raiders who killed him, a grown son and others May 2 encountered 23 children and nine women on the grounds of the three-story complex behind walls stained with mold, including three of his wives, officials said afterward.

The US has questioned those widows, the Pentagon said yesterday without revealing if anything was learned. The compound is hardly the plush redoubt US officials described in the immediate aftermath of the Navy Seals assault.

Yet the Saudi son of privilege, who long ago renounced wealth and creature comforts, had lived in far more Spartan circumstances even if he was not quite the cave-dweller of Western lore.