Bin Laden spent years living in compound with wives, children

Published: Saturday, May. 7, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 10A
Last Modified: Sunday, May. 8, 2011 - 1:50 pm

ABBOTTABAD, Pakistan – In the end, almost nothing that people thought they knew about Osama bin Laden's life in hiding turned out to be true.

There was no special guard of commandos protecting him. He wasn't hidden away in Pakistan's wild tribal regions. He didn't spend his final years as the world's most wanted fugitive in the company of al-Qaida followers trained in the many camps he'd sponsored before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Instead, bin Laden's last hideout was a dusty compound less than a mile from Pakistan's premier military academy, a place where he was confined to the house for five years with at least one of his wives and several children.

What precisely went on in the Abbottabad house where bin Laden died early Monday, shot in the chest and head by U.S. Navy SEALs, won't be known until Pakistani and U.S. officials finish questioning the women and children who were found, bound with plastic ties, after the U.S. team left.

But a reasonable sketch of the terrorist's final years can be assembled from the bits and pieces of information that have emerged from neighbors and Pakistani security officials.

The bin Laden family lived on the top two floors of the three-story home, the main building in the one-acre compound. It wasn't the luxurious million-dollar hideaway initially portrayed by American officials.

The house's paint is peeling, and photos and video taken inside show its furnishings were simple. But for comfort, the 54-year-old bin Laden had the company of his much younger wives and several children.

Neighbors said they never saw bin Laden or members of his family, nor did they notice any visitors to the house. Bin Laden never left the compound, nor perhaps the house itself. One of bin Laden's wives, 29-year-old Amal Ahmed Abdul Fattah, who was a gift to the al-Qaida leader when she was only 15, told Pakistani interrogators that she never left the upper floors of the house.

Fattah's devotion to bin Laden is clear. When bin Laden fled Afghanistan in 2001, she fled as well, making it safely to Yemen, her homeland. But at some point she managed to reunite with her husband in Pakistan. During the raid that ended with her husband's death, she rushed an American, who shot her in the leg, according to U.S. officials in Washington.

Fattah, at least two other women and lots of children – as many as 12 – were left behind when the Americans flew off with bin Laden's body.

How many of the children were bin Laden's is unclear. At least two were his, but he may have fathered as many as eight.

Pakistani officials say they have bin Laden's adolescent-age daughter in custody. She told them she saw the U.S. troops kill her father.

A Pakistani security official, on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to talk to reporters, said that an infant, about 6 months old, was also found in the house.

Other children were also young, 3 and 9. That means some of them were likely born in the house.

There were three adult women, one aged around 20, and two women who looked around 30, including Fattah.

"Three wives have been taken into custody. One had been shot. She told us they had been living there for five years," said a senior Pakistani military official, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue. "The children are also in our protective custody."

If bin Laden had been at the house since 2006 – some accounts suggest 2005 – it's unknown where he spent the rest of the time since slipping an American cordon at Tora Bora, Afghanistan, in December 2001.

The identities of the other two women are a mystery.

At least one son, Khalid, in his early 20s, also lived with the al-Qaida chief and was shot dead by the American soldiers; his body was found in a pool of blood at the foot of the stairs on the ground floor.

Several of the bedrooms in the house have their own attached kitchen, as well as attached bathrooms, according to Pakistani security personnel who have been inside. That arrangement would allow occupants to live independently of others in the house.

There were between eight and 10 bedrooms in the main house, while a second single-story building in the compound also offered living space.

Bin Laden's key custodians were two Pakistani brothers who gave their names to neighbors as Arshad and Tariq Khan. They, too, lived in the compound with their families, and both men were killed in the U.S. operation.

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