Video: Impossible to have lived unnoticed in military town
Published 03/05/2011 | 05:00
Osama bin Laden was certain to be caught in the end, but he was expected to go down in a blaze of glory in the mountains of Afghanistan or a remote hideout in Pakistan's tribal areas.
Instead, the world's most wanted man met his end in a short firefight in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
In the few hours I spent there -- and as I walked the short distance from his compound to the grounds of Pakistan's army officer training academy -- it seemed quite inconceivable that he could have lived there without the authorities being aware of his presence.
As a garrison town under constant threat of suicide bomb attack, it was obvious that nothing can move without the army and intelligence services knowing about it.
It was early evening by the time we arrived in Abbottabad after a winding 35-mile journey north from Islamabad.
The town was peaceful. The whole world may be alive with excitement as it digests the news that the biggest manhunt in history has reached its gory conclusion, but the most important death of the 21st century so far seems to have made little impact in Abbottabad.
The shops were open, selling fruit, groceries and kebabs. The restaurants were full as local people sat in the open air smoking cigarettes and munching naan bread. There was no tension in the air, no menacing groups of young men at street corners, no religious slogans scrawled on the walls or shouted in the streets.
Osama bin Laden met his death in the cleanest town I have ever seen in Pakistan. I marvelled at the tidy gardens, whitewashed walls and tidily pruned hedgerows. There was no litter in the streets. The shiny signposts at every corner betrayed the character of this idyllic city.
Abbottabad is a military cantonment. The military is omnipresent. As we entered the road leading to Bilal town -- where the Americans say Bin Laden was killed -- we were greeted by a large tank painted with extravagant military markings. It marked the entrance to the Pakistan military academy.
A few hundred yards down to the bottom of the hill was the entrance to Bilal town -- and the only place in Abbottabad where the tension was palpable. A heavy military presence halted further progress.
In the near darkness we could see the silhouette of the buildings where Bin Laden had died -- we were told that his compound was 100 yards from where we stood. Local people told us that the police and soldiers were removing items and collecting evidence from the house. "They don't want it to turn into a shrine," one said.
Not one person we spoke to believed that Bin Laden had been killed in the shootout. Wajjid Robbabni told us that the Americans were faking the death because they wanted to justify withdrawal from Afghanistan.
There was a mood of reasoned anger among the people outside Bilal town. They expressed indignation that the Americans had carried out a military operation in Pakistan.
Most of the men we spoke to told us that they strongly admired Osama bin Laden. There were vigorous nods of approval as Mohammad Iqbal, an elderly lawyer, said: "Bin Laden will be remembered. If he is dead, it will make no difference. His mission is over but his name will live on." (© Daily Telegraph, London)