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Pakistan City Reels After Bin Laden's Killing

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Pakistan City Reels After Bin Laden's Killing

Pakistan City Reels After Bin Laden's Killing

Pakistan City Reels After Bin Laden's Killing

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The compound where Osama bin Laden was captured and killed in a U.S. operation that marked a significant psychological triumph for the United States. i

The compound where Osama bin Laden was captured and killed in a U.S. operation that marked a significant psychological triumph for the United States. Sajid Mehmood/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Sajid Mehmood/NPR
The compound where Osama bin Laden was captured and killed in a U.S. operation that marked a significant psychological triumph for the United States.

The compound where Osama bin Laden was captured and killed in a U.S. operation that marked a significant psychological triumph for the United States.

Sajid Mehmood/NPR

I got my first glimpse of Osama bin Laden's compound while standing on a table in the bathroom of one of his neighbors.

The military had stopped journalists from entering the area, so an accommodating (if frightened) resident led me to the rear of his home, and if I craned my neck, I could see the fortified bin Laden hideout some 200 yards in the distance. The Pakistani military had secured the area and draped a red tarp around the property.

Neighbors' Night Of Terror

Neighbors described the terrifying sounds of U.S. Blackhawk helicopters hovering just above the poplar trees that dot their backyards and oversee bin Laden's.

One of the choppers ferrying a Navy SEAL counterterrorist unit crashed and was destroyed by the Americans in a thunderous explosion that residents say could be heard across the city.

Abbottabad's endless rows of barracks and manicured brick buildings are a throwback to the British colonial era.

In fact, the normally tranquil garrison town nestled in the green hills of northwest Pakistan is named for English Maj. James Abbott. A two-hour drive from Islamabad, it now bears the distinction of being the final home and hideout of the world's most wanted terrorist.

Compound Was A Curiosity

Residents who lived near the secret bin Laden compound called it "a mysterious building" whose inhabitants mixed with no one.

Nadeem Khan, who lives nearby, said he was "startled" to learn that bin Laden had encamped in a costly compound around the corner.

"I never saw any movement around the house. When I asked people on the same street they said smuggler-types lived there," Khan said. "They would have no interaction with other people. We didn't see them coming or going."

Equally perplexing for the residents is that Pakistan's equivalent of West Point is just up the road.

Proximity To Military Academy

The prestigious training center visited by Pakistan's army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, only nine days prior to the U.S. operation to take out bin Laden would likely have had constant security surveillance.

"That's what's shocking," said Salman Sayeed, who lives and studies in Abbottabad. "We were thinking all night: How come a person on the top list of the U.S. and Interpol is living so close to the military for one year, two years, God knows how many years? That's very shocking."

Sayeed said the Pakistan military "probably knew" that bin Laden was there, "but they didn't want to make a chaos of it." They "probably had their own strategy," he said.

Z. Shah Ahmed, a 37-year old resident, demurred when asked what he thought about the discovery that bin Laden lived just blocks from the sprawling military garrison, calling it "a very sensitive question" that he did not want to talk about.

Collusion Or Incompetence?

Pakistan has suffered from the impression that it is a nexus of global terrorist activity. Top U.S. officials have become increasingly vocal in their criticism that Pakistan failed to devise a clear path to eliminating militancy, further irritating U.S.-Pakistan relations.

But the fact that bin Laden had inhabited a house within walking distance of the Pakistan Military Academy is certain to raise questions about what if anything the Pakistanis knew about the al-Qaida chief's presence in Abbottabad and when they knew it.

Defense analyst Hasan-Askari Rizvi said Monday's raid was "an embarrassment for the Pakistanis," who seem to have been left out of the loop, a development that retired Lt. Gen. Talat Masood says could have "catastrophic" implications for Pakistan.

U.S. Accomplished Its Mission, Now Go

But many more Pakistanis are likely to see in the U.S. raid that apparently accorded no prior notice to Pakistan a violation of their sovereignty. Across the country a common chorus rose: Abbottabad resident Nadeem Khan said it is now time for the U.S. to end what many Pakistanis consider its occupation of Afghanistan.

"The U.S. should pull out [of Afghanistan] because Osama bin Laden was their target. And they invaded Afghanistan to capture him," Khan said.

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