By the time Pakistani soldiers lifted the cordon around Osama bin Laden’s house in the garrison town of Abbottabad, triggering a media stampede, the most obvious traces of its infamous resident had been effaced.
The following day, Pakistani intelligence made a second sweep. Tractors carted away all belongings. But it was impossible to erase every trace of the drama that ended the manhunt.
Up close, Bin Laden’s house, a tall, unlovely piece of architecture, towering over the policemen guarding the gate, was not quite the million dollar mansion described by officials. The walls were high, certainly, but not unusually so for north-western Pakistan, where privacy is jealously guarded. The paint was peeling, there was no air conditioning.
When children playing in the fields let a ball fly into the compound by mistake, the owners never let them retrieve it but gave them 50 rupees to buy a new one, said one of the neighbours.
The house, it turned out, had been on the radar of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for more than eight years. In 2003, ISI agents raided it in search of Abu Faraj al-Libbi, a senior Bin Laden lieutenant, but left empty-handed, an ISI official said.
Around 2005, Bin Laden moved in, according to US officials, and finally met his doom last Monday.
It is unclear what will happen now to the house that Osama built. It has become an embarrassment for Pakistan, a reminder of the fact that the world’s most famous fugitive managed to live in suburban comfort, apparently undetected, for up to six years.
(The Guardian and NYT)