Thu Dec 08 16:22:34 SAST 2016

THE BIG READ: Osama's last seconds

Rib Crilly | 2013-07-10 00:30:39.0
The death of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is celebrated in Ahmedabad, India. For the first time the voices of his wife and children have been heard
Image by: REUTERS

The sound of footsteps and gunfire was coming closer, up the stairs towards the third floor, to where they had fled. Osama bin Laden, his youngest wife Amal, and one of his daughters, must have known their life on the run was reaching its end.

On the landing outside their refuge, Amal saw the dark form of a US Navy Seal steady his weapon. A red laser beam dotted her husband's chest.

She flung herself at the commando, in a desperate attempt to snatch the rifle away. A bullet pierced her knee and more shots followed. As she lay injured on the bed, Amal heard the American accents of soldiers asking two of Bin Laden's daughters the name of the man they had just killed.

This is not another gung-ho account of the raid on Bin Laden's hideaway told by the Navy Seals who mounted the assault, nor is it the gripping climax of Zero Dark Thirty, Hollywood's version of the story. For the first time the voices of Osama's wives and children can be heard amid pages and pages of eyewitness accounts.

The report of the Pakistani government's Abbottabad Commission, obtained by TV station Al Jazeera, heaps scorn on Pakistan's political and military establishment for failing to realise that the world's most-wanted man was living in a town barely 50km from the capital, and almost within sight of the country's officer training academy.

It accuses the authorities of missing a string of discrepancies that should have led the hunt to the secretive villa in Abbottabad.

"Over a period of time, an effective intelligence agency should have been able to contact, infiltrate or co-opt [Bin Laden's support network], and develop a whole case load of information. Apparently, this was not the case," the report says.

It also details the way in which the world's most-wanted man was able to move through the country's northwest almost at will, building himself a house, fathering children and hiding in plain sight.

Bin Laden had settled in Abbottabad, living for more than six years in the custom-built house with his three wives.

The women said they were woken on the night of the raid by what they thought was a storm but turned out to be American Black Hawk helicopters. Footsteps on the roof followed quickly and, within minutes, Bin Laden had been shot.

Summaya, one of Bin Laden's daughters, said she knew immediately he was dead. She described a bullet wound to his forehead and the way "blood flowed backwards over his head".

After 36 minutes it was all over. The wives were allowed to collect Bin Laden's will and a few trinkets before disappearing into the custody of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency.

The comprehensive report, with evidence from more than 200 witnesses, also gives insight into the lengths to which Bin Laden went to avoid detection - and the opportunities missed to catch him.

After arriving in Pakistan he lived in the Swat Valley for several months at the end of 2002. During this time he was stopped for speeding.

Next he moved to the quiet town of Haripur, where Amal gave birth to two children at the clinic. To protect her from awkward questions, Abrar al-Kuwaiti, one of Bin Laden's two couriers, told the doctors that she was deaf and dumb. They moved to Abbottabad in 2005 to a new high-walled home.

According to the report, discrepancies in the purchase of land, an unapproved third storey and several odd features - such as four electricity connections to keep bills down - should all have triggered alarm bells among government agencies.

To locals, used to not asking questions for fear of upsetting gangsters or warlords, the villa was known as "Waziristan House".

Bin Laden wore a cowboy hat as he exercised in the yard, for fear of being spotted from above.

He also took pains to hide his true identity from the families of the two couriers, but overlooked the presence of a television set inside the compound.

One day, a few months before the raid, Rahma, a daughter of one of the couriers, spotted a picture of Bin Laden on Al Jazeera and recognised him as the man she called "Miskeen Baba" - or poor uncle - from the main house.

TV was banned and interaction between the two families ended. - ©The Daily Telegraph

BIN LADEN AND THE SPEED COP

THE hunt for Osama bin Laden might have ended eight years earlier had a Pakistani traffic policeman spotted the world's most-wanted man in a car he had stopped for speeding.

According to the testimony of Maryam, the wife of Ibrahim al-Kuwaiti, one of Bin Laden's two trusted bodyguards, they would make occasional visits to the local bazaar. She told investigators that on one trip their car was pulled over for speeding by a policeman, but that her husband "quickly settled the matter". Whether the police officer was paid off or failed to spot the passenger is not explained.

US Navy Seals killed Bin Laden and al-Kuwaiti during a raid on the terrorist's Abbotabad villa in 2011

Pakistan's official investigation, obtained on Monday by Al Jazeera, was scathing towards the country' s government.

"Culpable negligence and incompetence at almost all levels of government can more or less be conclusively established," it concludes.

It also criticises the military for failing to spot either the CIA hunt for Bin Laden inside Pakistan or the covert night raid in which four helicopters crossed the border from Afghanistan undetected. - ©The Daily Telegraph

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