By A. Srivathsan
As a prince of terror across nations and continents, Osama bin Laden was immensely resourceful but he was also hardwired in his habits. What we now know suggests that his life inside the Abbottabad compound was an extension of his life in other compounds that he owned and lived in for two decades or more.
Osama bin Laden, who was killed by a team of U.S Navy SEALs in a compound in Abbottabad in Pakistan on the night of May 1, was possibly living in Pakistan from 2002, going by the accounts of hundreds of Guantanamo detainees.
The accounts, contained in the Guantanamo files recently released by the WikiLeaks, produce a rich, if not always reliable, travelogue of the al-Qaeda leader's journey to Pakistan — there are as many 3,900 references to him spread over the files of 765 of the detainees. The WikiLeaks Web site has properly warned that the information contained in the files may not be credible as U.S officials used brutal and coercive techniques to extract confessions from the detainees.
But as they are, the accounts portray a man who, while zealously preaching jihad and suffering from bad kidneys, was very mobile, followed a diet of three meals a day, and travelled with Islamic scholars, including one who could interpret dreams.
Interestingly, it does appear that his life inside the Abbottabad compound was an extension of his life in other similar compounds he owned and lived in for two decades or more.
Between 1992 and 1995, bin Laden was operating from his compound in Khartoum till the U.S. government put pressure on the Sudan government to expel him. As Omar Khalif Mohammed Abu Baker Mahjoub (Gitmo file: 695), said to be a long-time bin Laden associate and currently a detainee in Guantanamo, related it, bin Laden used two aircraft to move his family and bodyguards to Afghanistan. The al-Qaeda leader, his two sons, Saad and Umar, and confidants travelled in one plane. Mahjoub said he was in the other plane accompanying “the family members of the first plane of people” — Gitmo officials interpreted that to mean bin Laden's wives and children — along with “unspecified goods and equipment.”
In Afghanistan, bin Laden built and owned numerous guest houses and compounds. While the guest houses were used mostly by al-Qaeda fighters in transit, the compounds with their multiple houses were the places where bin Laden lived with his retinue. The Nejim al Jihad compound in Jalalabad, in the accounts of several Guantanamo detainees, appears to have been bin Laden's favourite residence where he lived with his wives and trusted bodyguards under less precarious circumstances. He was there in 1998, according to one reference in the Gitmo files. The compound was also known as the “airport house” due to its proximity to the airport.
It is not clear when bin Laden moved out of Jalalabad but his next destination was Kandahar, where he set up his best-known compound called Mall Six. From various detainees' accounts, it is possible to make out that bin Laden lived there between 1999 until a few weeks before the 9/11 attacks.
Many detainees at Guantanamo Bay are recorded as recalling their visits to Mall Six, also known as Mujamma Sitta (Compound Number Six); some of them said they had met bin Laden there. Some had even attended the wedding of Muhammed bin Laden, bin Laden's son, in the compound.
Mall Six had multiple buildings, a mosque, and a horse stable. The bin Laden wives — the number is unclear — lived in the rear block and the front was used for meetings. Up to 15 security personnel also lived in the compound with their families. Only known people were allowed inside, and even they had to pass through security checks before reaching other blocks within. Bodyguards often played multiple roles; some worked as drivers while others cooked at times.
Like the Jalalabad compound, Mall Six was near the airport. The regular use of aircraft by bin Laden and al-Qaeda's links with the Ariana Airlines that was used for transporting money and weapons are well known. Hamidallah, (Gitmo file: 953), the former president of Ariana Airlines, was a detainee in the U.S. till he was transferred to Afghanistan on April 18, 2005.
It appears that bin Laden anticipated the U.S. response to the 9/11 attacks. He reportedly started preparing to move to the Tora Bora mountains two months before the attacks.
Source: The Hindu, India