Pressure on Pakistan to provide names

United States officials were believed to be demanding the names of some of Pakistan's leading intelligence agents to determine if any of them could have had some contact with Osama bin Laden or the men who shared the compound with him.

The development came as it was claimed bin Laden lived for 2 years in a village just 30km from Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, before moving into the compound where he was finally caught and killed.

The revelation that the al-Qaeda leader may have been hiding not in the wild tribal areas, but in the heart of the country came from his youngest wife, Amal Ahmed Abdulfattah, in interviews with Pakistani officials.

It was reported in Islamabad newspapers and the New York Times.

Her statements will only add to the embarrassment of the Pakistani establishment, create further tension in its relationship with the US and increase Washington's suspicions that elements of Islamabad's intelligence service knew of, or even colluded in, bin Laden's evasion of capture.

If her account is true, it means that bin Laden was living in Pakistan just 18 months after 9/11.

Washington has also demanded the identities of top Pakistani intelligence operatives as CIA analysts sift through material seized from the bin Laden compound to try to determine who had contact with him and his aides during his years living in Pakistan.

The blunt "name names" message was delivered during a tense meeting between Pakistani officials and an American envoy who travelled to Islamabad straight after the raid.

Suspicions have deepened that Pakistan's pervasive Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency, which has a long history of contacts with militant groups, may have had ties with bin Laden - or that at least some of its agents did. The agency has been described as a state within a state.

Pakistan has dismissed such suggestions and says it has paid the highest price in human life and money supporting the US war on militancy launched after September 11.

US Defence Department officials are now saying that data seized from the compound further demonstrates that top al-Qaeda commanders and other key insurgents are scattered throughout Pakistan, not just in the rugged border areas, and are being supported and given sanctuary by Pakistanis.

Villagers in Chak Shah Mohammad, a couple of kilometres southeast of Haripur, yesterday found themselves being questioned by police and officers from the "agencies", who wanted to know if anyone had information about strangers or "foreigners" living in the area in a rented property. How precise was the information given by Abdulfattah to investigators remains unclear.

"Amal told investigators that they lived in a village in Haripur district for nearly 2 years before moving to Abbottabad at the end of 2005," a security official told Reuters. The woman, along with at least one other wife and several children - perhaps as many as eight - were among up to 16 people detained by the Pakistani authorities at the compound after the raid by US Navy Seals.

More detailed accounts emerged yesterday of what was the entirely secret life of Osama bin Laden. They go some way to explaining how - if not why - a 193cm man with perhaps the most famous face in the world was able to keep on the run for nearly a decade.

And they show that, while all intelligence officials, in the US as well as Pakistan, believed their quarry was skulking in the mountains, he had long since chosen to live a life of claustrophobic domesticity in urbanised Pakistan. If the testimony of his wife is reliable, bin Laden and his family forsook the heights of Waziristan as long ago as early 2003, and moved to Chak Shah Mohammad.

Locals there were bewildered at the suggestion that bin Laden may have been a local resident. "Our forefathers have been living here for decades. There is no way that Osama bin Laden could be living here," said Abdul Waheed, a farmer. "Everybody knows each other's names and their children's names. It would be very difficult for him to be living here. It would be easier in Abbottabad."

At another village, Ali Khan, a similarly bucolic spot, a landowner said several of his tenants had told him they had been questioned as to whether any outsiders had tried to rent a property in the area.

He was similarly dismissive about the idea that bin Laden may have been there. "I don't think he could be hiding in this vicinity. Here there would be no supporting elements for him," said the man, who asked not to be named, looking out over a vista that ended in the foothills of the Karakoram.

"Osama's wife is not a Pakistani so she would not know where she was living. If she was a Pakistani, it would carry more weight."

It is possible that the village was merely a bolthole while the compound in Abbottabad was being constructed - no swift task for a complex which consisted of a main house on three floors, several yards and high walls, plus a guest house.

But, whatever their previous safehouse, by late 2005, bin Laden and his entourage moved to Abbottabad.

There were pluses and minuses to this location. As the home to a large military academy, Abbottabad was well policed, and security was tight.

But it also had something of an al-Qaeda track record which might make it regularly monitored. The terrorist organisation was known to have used three local houses, according to the autobiography of former President Pervez Musharraf.

In 2003, a house was raided on suspicion that Abu Faraj al-Libi, then al-Qaeda's third in command, was holed up there.

And, earlier this year, Umar Patek, suspected of the 2002 Bali bombing, was arrested in Abbottabad. He had US$1 million in cash on him, and Indonesian officials now believe he was on his way to see Bin Laden.

Pakistan security forces have, in the past few days, arrested up to 40 people in Abbottabad suspected of having "connections" to bin Laden.

With the al-Qaeda leader in the compound, at least at the end, were three of Bin Laden's wives (one of whom says she never left the upper two floors in six years), three of his children (a girl and two boys), an unknown number of other children, the two men who acted as "couriers", bin Laden's Yemeni doctor and perhaps five other women.

Only the two couriers ever left the compound, making regular trips to the local shops, and taking the opportunity for a crafty cigarette, since bin Laden banned smoking inside the walls.

The compound had a cow, a large vegetable patch, and the children kept rabbits.

- INDEPENDENT

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