Family tell of bin Laden's last moments

By Rob Crilly

Pakistan inquiry reveals wife's desperate bid to save life of world's most wanted man - and condemns 'sustained dereliction of duty by political, military and intelligence leadership'.

Osama bin Laden lived undetected for more than six years in this custom-built compound in Abbottabad, in northern Pakistan, with his three wives. Photo / AP
Osama bin Laden lived undetected for more than six years in this custom-built compound in Abbottabad, in northern Pakistan, with his three wives. Photo / AP

The sound of footsteps and gunfire was coming closer, up the stairs towards the third floor where 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 an American Navy Seal steady his weapon, a red laser ray trained on bin Laden'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.

This is the story of the raid from inside the high-walled compound, told to Pakistani investigators.

The report of the Abbottabad Commission, obtained by 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.

"Over a period of time, an effective intelligence agency should have been able to contact, infiltrate or co-opt [OBL's support network], and to develop a whole case load of information.

"Apparently, this was not the case," it concluded.

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

The investigation, set up after United States Navy Seals killed bin Laden and his trusted courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, during a raid on the terrorist's Abbottabad villa in 2011, delivers a scathing verdict on Pakistan's efforts.

"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, apparently because Pakistan's radars were focusing on the threat from India.

Far from the whitewash many Pakistanis expected, it even calls on the country's leadership to apologise for its failings. "This [was] a case of nothing less than a collective and sustained dereliction of duty by the political, military and intelligence leadership of the country."

Of the Abbottabad villa, it said: "How the entire neighbourhood, local officials, police and security and intelligence officials all missed the size, the strange shape, the barbed wire, the lack of cars and visitors etc over a period of nearly six years beggars belief."

Bin Laden had settled in Abbottabad, living for more than six years in the custom-built house with his three wives. They described how 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 his will and a few trinkets before disappearing into the custody of the Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency.

The comprehensive report, with evidence from more than 200 witnesses, also gives insight into the lengths bin Laden went to 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 period he came closest to detection when his car was stopped for speeding.

Next, they moved to the quiet town of Haripur, not much more than an hour and half's drive from Islamabad.

There Amal gave birth to two children at a local clinic. To keep her from awkward questions, Abrar al-Kuwaiti, one of bin Laden's two couriers, and his wife told the doctors she was deaf and dumb.

Inside, the families were segregated. While the wives and children of the two couriers were able to leave the compound, bin Laden's relatives stayed inside. He even took to wearing 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.

The television was quickly banned and all interaction between the two families ended.

Cop misses top fugitive

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.

The extraordinary revelation is made by Pakistan's official investigation, obtained yesterday by Al Jazeera, into how bin Laden managed to live undetected in the country for almost a decade. In its report, the Abbottabad Commission concluded that Pakistan's military and Government missed several chances to close in on bin Laden.

They may have come closest when the al-Qaeda leader was living in the Swat Valley in 2002 and 2003.

According to the testimony of Maryam, the wife of Ibrahim al-Kuwaiti, one of bin Laden's two trusted bodyguards, they would occasionally visit the local bazaar. Shesaid that on one trip their car was pulled over for speeding but that her husband "quickly settled the matter".

Whether the police officer was paid off or failed to spot the passenger is not explained.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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