HARIPUR, Pakistan: It’s an ornate but not lavish two-story house tucked away at the end of a mud clogged street. This is where Pakistan’s intelligence agency believes Osama bin Laden lived for nearly a year until he moved into the villa in which he was eventually killed.
The residence in the frontier town of Haripur was one of five safe houses used by the slain al-Qaeda leader while on the run in Pakistan according to information revealed by his youngest wife, who has been detained.
Retired Pakistani Brig. Shaukat Qadir, who has spent the last eight months tracking bin Laden’s movements, told The Associated Press that he was taken to the Haripur house last November by intelligence agents who located it from a description they got from Amal Ahmed Abdel-Fatah al-Sada.
Al-Sada, a 30-year-old Yemeni, has been in Pakistani custody since May 2 when US Navy SEALs overran the Abbottabad compound, killing bin Laden and four other people inside. Since then, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, known as the ISI, has been trying to uncover the trail that brought him to Abbottabad villa in the summer of 2005.
The best information appears to have come from al-Sada, who was believed to be his favourite and who traveled with bin Laden since his escape from Afghanistan’s eastern Tora Bora mountain range in 2001.
Qadir, a 35-year army veteran who is now a security consultant, was given rare access to transcripts of Pakistani intelligence’s interrogation of al-Sada and access to other documents on bin-Laden’s movements. He provided the AP with details in a recent interview.
The details of bin Laden’s life as a fugitive – which were first published by the Pakistani newspaper Dawn – raise fresh questions over how bin Laden was able to remain undetected for so long in Pakistan after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, despite being the subject of a massive international manhunt.
Yet a senior US official, who is familiar with the contents recovered in bin Laden’s Abbottabad house, said there was no evidence that Pakistani officials were aware of bin Laden’s presence.
“There was no smoking gun. We didn’t find anything,” he said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak about the contents of the Abbottabad house.
According to the interrogation report, bin Laden lived in five safe houses and fathered four children – the two youngest born in a public hospital in Abbotabad. But investigators have only located the houses in Abbottabad and Haripur.
Al-Sada’s descriptions of the homes have been vague and the Haripur house was found only after a series of hits and misses.
She knew only that it was located on the edge of Haripur, it was two stories and it had a basement. It apparently was used by bin Laden while he waited for construction crews to finish his new home Abbottabad, a garrison town just 30 kilometers away.
Investigators scoured the area looking for properties until they found the Haripur house in Naseem Town, a chaotic suburb where relatively affluent houses bump up against sun-baked mud huts that belong to nomadic Afghans.
Like the CIA, the Pakistani agency also tracked the movements of bin Laden’s Pakistani courier who used the pseudonym Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti and his brother. The two were ethnic Pashtuns from Pakistan’s Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province on the border with Afghanistan. They were bin Laden’s front men.
The ISI discovered that the Haripur house, like the land on which bin Laden’s Abbottabad villa was built, was rented by two Pashtun brothers claiming to be from Charsadda, a Pashtun dominated town about 110 kilometers away.
The AP located the Haripur house that Qadir said ISI agents had taken him to last November and found the real estate broker, Pir Mohammed, who rented the four-bedroom house to the two brothers, Salim and Javed Khan from Charsadda, for $150 a month.
At the time Pir Mohammed ran a small real estate firm called Mashallah. He said his meeting with the brothers was random.
“They must have seen my sign and come in,” Mohammed said, adding that he had met the brothers only three times – when they signed the contract, when they moved into the house and when they moved out 11 months later.
Two months ago several ISI agents took all the records of the house and its tenants since its construction in 2000, said Qasi Anis Rahman, the brother of the widow who owns the house.
“All they said was that it was for ‘security purposes,’” said Rahman.
Al-Sada is currently in Pakistani custody, along with bin Laden’s two other wives and several children. They were arrested after the raid. The US Navy SEALs shot al-Sada in the leg during the operation.
Mohammed Amir Khalil, a lawyer for the three widows, said the women would be formally charged for illegally staying in Pakistan on April 2. That charge carries a maximum five-year prison sentence.