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Terror chief a vain man, videos show

The world's most feared man was also a very vain man. Or did he understand the power of looking good, or menacing, as well as the best of politicians? Yashwant Raj writes.

world Updated: May 09, 2011 09:27 IST
Yashwant Raj

The world's most feared man was also a very vain man. Or did he understand the power of looking good, or menacing, as well as the best of politicians?

Videos snatched by the US Navy Seals from Osama bin Laden's lair in Abbottabad and released on Saturday show him practising for his death-to-Americans videos, appearing with dyed hair and flowing beard for these presentations.

At the time of this death, his beard was grey.

"He jealously guarded his image," said a senior intelligence official at a briefing at the Pentagon, where the five videos captured from the Abbottabad compound were also released.

One of them was titled 'A broadcast to the American people'.

It is said to have been shot between October 9 and November 5, 2010, the official added. But it was not released.

In one of the clips, Bin Laden is seen watching TV clips of himself.

More significantly, however, the videos and other items taken by the Seals showed that Bin Laden was not in retirement.

"The materials reviewed over the past several days clearly show that Bin Laden remained an active leader in al Qaeda, providing strategic, operational and tactical instructions to the group," the official said, adding, "Though separated from many al Qaeda members who are located in more remote areas of the region, he was far from being a figurehead."

Experts have wondered lately - after his death - if Bin Laden was indeed in control of his troops sitting in faraway places. Especially, as communicating with them would have been his biggest challenge.

The house he lived in had no telephone or internet connection. And to make phone calls, his aides - his courier, for instance - travelled a long distance from the compound before even powering up their mobile handsets.

This, of course, should also address unsubstantiated but widely cited reports of Ayman al Zawahiri having taken charge of al Qaeda, pushing Bin Laden to the margins.

Some reports -- again without much proof -- have suggested Zawahiri might even have set up the courier to lead the US to Bin Laden.

Bin Laden was in charge, and the compound was an active control and command centre, an official said.

Intelligence analysts are looking at the captured material -- described as an intelligence treasure trove -- for plans of strikes or attacks planned by al Qaeda but the official refused to discuss "actionable details".

Little is known about how Bin Laden, believed to be 54, 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, whose Yemeni passport shows her to be 29.

There were nine children in the household, but it remained unclear how many belonged to Bin Laden.

With agency inputs