U.S. Department of Defense

In this image from video, a man who is said to be Osama bin Laden watches television. The U.S. government Saturday released five short videos from bin Laden's home in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Bin Laden's hideout was al-Qaida control center, U.S. says

Published: Sunday, May. 8, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 15A
Last Modified: Sunday, May. 8, 2011 - 9:38 am

WASHINGTON – Osama bin Laden's Pakistan home was al-Qaida's command and control center where he directed subordinates and proposed attacks against the United States, a senior intelligence official told reporters Saturday.

The briefing covered some of the details that officials have gleaned from thumb drives, computers, notes and videos obtained during the raid on the home early Monday that killed bin Laden. It's the greatest intelligence success of perhaps a generation, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity at the Pentagon.

The government also released five short clips it obtained from the home in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The videos, viewed together, showed bin Laden as both a frail man and as the polished al-Qaida leader who took care with his appearance and image.

One showed bin Laden sitting on the floor, a remote in his hand, watching a video of himself. Wearing a black cap and wrapped with a brown blanket, he is seen stroking his gray beard and directing a cameraman to film images from the television set.

Wires from a cable box hang off the wall. The television and the satellite input box sit on a shaky computer desk. Next to bin Laden is a pillow. The room is barren, with what appears to be peeling paint on the wall.

House plans obtained from authorities in Abbottabad showed that the third floor was an illegal addition.

Some of the videos of bin Laden showed him giving speeches or practicing them. His beard was dyed black in some, but the official said bin Laden's beard was gray when he was killed.

In the speech videos, bin Laden wears a white robe, usually with a yellow covering over it, and a white cap, called a taqiyah, which is commonly worn by Muslims in that region.

The release of the five videos appeared to be an effort by the government to confirm bin Laden's death and show the extent to which he had remained a threat.

"This mission goes to the heart of what the CIA is all about: protecting America and building a better world for our children," CIA Director Leon Panetta said in a statement Saturday. "It demonstrates the perseverance, skill and sheer courage of the men and women who stand watch for our nation, day in and day out. And it is a model of seamless collaboration, both within the intelligence community and with the U.S. military.

"The material found in the compound only further confirms how important it was to go after bin Laden," Panetta added.

The director general of Pakistan's military-run intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISI, was scheduled to arrive in Washington on Saturday for meetings with Panetta. He was expected to face questions about what his agency knew about bin Laden's presence.

On Saturday, the senior U.S. intelligence official who spoke to reporters rejected suggestions that bin Laden was just a figurehead, calling him instead the nexus of operational planning.

The official wouldn't say whether bin Laden plotted attacks against U.S. troops stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan. He also didn't say anything about al-Qaida's finances or whether bin Laden was communicating with the Pakistani government or intelligence services or how much al-Qaida coordinated with the Taliban.

Officials so far haven't given any evidence of plans for a specific attack. The intelligence official, however, said that transportation and infrastructure continued to be al-Qaida's targets.

Bin Laden lived on the second and third floors of a house in the compound for years, with as many as 12 children, his wife told Pakistani officials.

News reports Saturday suggested that bin Laden previously had lived in a village in Haripur district, Chak Shah Mohammad, about a 40-minute drive from Abbottabad, based on a leaked interrogation of his wife by Pakistani intelligence.

Amal Ahmed Abdul Fattah, 29, now in the custody of Pakistani authorities, reportedly told investigators that she and bin Laden had lived in the village between 2003 and 2005, when they moved to Abbottabad.

The village, like Abbottabad, is in a mainstream area of Pakistan.

However, a McClatchy reporter visiting Chak Shah Mohammad found no evidence of a house that had been used by the al-Qaida chief or any activity by Pakistani police to suggest that they were trying to find it.

The village is a collection of about 150 scattered houses amid farmland.

"We always find out who's living here, even if they're here for two days, let alone two years," said Qari Ghulam Haider, a resident of Chak Shah Mohammad. "There's no concept of renting out homes here."

In Washington, the government didn't release the audio that accompanied the videos. Officials said they didn't want to spread al-Qaida propaganda.

One of the videos showed an armoire that officials believe was found in the compound.

One video begins with a speech to the American people, which is scrawled across the screen in Arabic, in which bin Laden criticizes capitalism and makes vague threats, the official said. The government believes that it was recorded between Oct. 9 and Nov. 5, 2010.

Al-Qaida on Friday, in its announcement confirming bin Laden's death, didn't name a successor. It's unclear if its No. 2, Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahri, will become the leader.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Nancy A. Youssef

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