A doctor who sold a piece of the land where Osama bin Laden’s final hideout was built said the buyer, a Pakistani who apparently sheltered the al-Qaeda chief, was a “modest, humble” man who did not seem to be a militant.
As Pakistan sought to counter suspicions it had been harboring bin Laden, details emerged on Wednesday about the small group of men who looked after the al-Qaeda chief in this northwestern town before he was killed by U.S. commandos.
Chief among them was a man known as Arshad Khan, who neighbours said was one of two Pakistani men living in the house. Property records obtained by The Associated Press show Mohammad Arshad bought adjoining plots in four stages between 2004 and 2005 for $48,000. The two appear to be the same person, and the names may be fake.
The doctor, Qazi Mahfooz Ul Haq, said he sold a plot of land to Arshad in 2005. He said the buyer was a sturdily built man who had a tuft of hair under his lower lip. He spoke with an accent that sounded like it was from Waziristan, a tribal region close to Afghanistan that is home to many al-Qaeda operatives.
“He was a very simple, modest, humble type of man” who was “very interested” in buying the land for “an uncle,” the doctor said.
Arshad may have been one of the five people killed in the raid including bin Laden and one of his sons. U.S. officials have said bin Laden’s most trusted courier, and the courier’s wife and brother also died.
It is still unclear what the connection was between Arshad and the courier, who eventually led the U.S. to bin Laden, or if they were in fact the same person.
U.S. officials have identified the courier as Sheikh Abu Ahmed, a Pakistani man born in Kuwait who went by the nom de guerre Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti. They obtained his name from detainees held in secret CIA prison sites in Eastern Europe and vetted it with top al-Qaeda operatives like September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
The courier was so important to al-Qaeda that he was tapped by Mohammed to shepherd the man who was to have been the 20th hijacker through computer training needed for the September 11 attacks, according to newly released documents from Guantanamo Bay interrogations.
The courier allegedly trained Maad al-Qahtani at an Internet cafe in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi in July 2001 so that he could communicate by email with Mohammed Atta, the September 11 financier and one of the 19 hijackers, who was already in the United States.
But al-Qahtani proved to be a poor student and was ultimately denied entry to the U.S. when he raised suspicion among immigration officials.
The Guantanamo documents also revealed that the courier might have been one of the men who accompanied bin Laden to Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan in December 2001 just weeks before the Taliban’s final surrender.
Al-Kuwaiti inadvertently led intelligence officials to bin Laden when he used a telephone last year to talk with someone the U.S. had wiretapped. The CIA then tracked al-Kuwaiti back to the walled compound in Abbottabad.
Bin Laden was living in a large house not far from a military academy in Abbottabad, an Army town that is just two hours drive from the capital. That he lived there for up to six years undetected has reignited long-standing suspicions that the country, nominally a U.S. ally, is playing a double game.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said anyone who claimed his country hid bin Laden was “colour blind.”
During a visit to Paris, Mr. Gilani said that Pakistan shared intelligence with numerous countries in the fight against terrorism and had “excellent cooperation” with the United States. He said that “if we have failed it means everybody failed,” and an investigation would be ordered.
Some U.S. legislators have suggested that Washington cut or terminate American aid to Pakistan as a result. But others are advising caution — Pakistan has nuclear arms, is already unstable and the U.S. needs its support to withdraw from Afghanistan.
Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the discovery of bin Laden so close to an army installation was “embarrassing to them” but that institutional entities like the army, intelligence service and government likely didn’t know about bin Laden’s presence.
Meanwhile, Indonesia said its most wanted terrorist suspect was in Abbottabad to meet Osama bin Laden when he was arrested there early this year. The remark Defence Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro is the strongest indication yet that the arrest of Patek, an al-Qaeda operative wanted for the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings, may have been connected to the bin Laden raid.
Patek was injured in a raid by Pakistani intelligence agents on a house in Abbottabad on January 25, but news of arrest only leaked out in late March. He was traveling with his Filipino wife. He is currently being held in Pakistan, but may be turned over to Indonesia