Abbottabad, May 5 :The Pakistani who owned the compound that was Osama bin Laden's final hideaway meticulously bought up adjoining plots of land over two years and once cryptically told a seller that the property he bought for "an uncle" had become very valuable.
The new information that emerged Wednesday provided a new glimpse of one of two key figures who sheltered bin Laden in his last years and whose identities remain one of the biggest mysteries surrounding the al-Qaida chief.
At the same time, Pakistan stepped up its attempt to convince the world that it didn't know where bin Laden was located. They maintain that the al-Qaida leader's ability to hide in Abbottabad, an army town just two hours drive from the capital, was the result of an oversight by the government, not double dealing.
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said Wednesday that anyone who claimed his country hid bin Laden was "color blind." During a visit to Paris, 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.
Many countries have expressed disbelief that bin Laden could have holed up under the Pakistani army's nose, and some U.S. Congressmen have said the U.S. should consider cutting billions of dollars in aid to the country if it turns out Pakistan knew where he was located. U.S. officials have long criticized Pakistan, a key but difficult ally, for failing to target Islamist militants on its territory.
Property records obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday show that a man named Mohammed Arshad bought the land in Abbottabad where bin Laden's compound was built. He bought the adjoining plots in four stages between 2004 and 2005 and paid $48,000.
Qazi Mahfooz Ul Haq, a doctor, told the AP that 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-Qaida 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. The doctor saw Arshad a few times after he sold him the land, he said. On one of those occasions, Arshad cryptically said, "your land is now very costly" -- meaning valuable. Arshad bought two other plots used for the compound in a less transparent transaction in November 2004, according to a review of the property records.
Raja Imtiaz Ahmed, who previously owned the two plots, said he sold them to a middleman who may have then passed them on to Arshad. He could not recall the middleman's name and was looking for records that would reveal it.Neighbors of the bin Laden compound said one of the two Pakistani men living in the house who periodically ventured outside went by the name Arshad Khan, and roughly matched the physical description of Mohammed Arshad.
The two names apparently refer to the same man and both names may be fake. But one thing is clear -- bin Laden relied on a small, trusted inner circle as lifelines to the outside who provided for his daily needs such as food and medicine and kept his location secret. And it appears they did not betray him. Arshad is also suspected as the courier who unwittingly led the Americans to bin Laden after years of painstaking tracking.
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-Qaida operatives like Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
The man who periodically ventured outside bin Laden's compound with the suspected courier is believed to be his brother. American officials said the courier and his brother were killed in the American commando raid on the compound early Monday. The courier was so important to al-Qaida that he was tapped by Mohammed to shepherd the man who was to have been the 20th hijacker through computer training needed for the Sept. 11 attacks, according to newly released documents from Guantanamo Bay interrogations.
The courier 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 Sept. 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, which was located near a Pakistani army academy. Bin Laden was living in the house for up to six years before U.S. Navy Seals raided the compound and shot the al-Qaida leader. One of bin Laden's daughters, who says she saw U.S. forces shooting her father, is in Pakistani custody, said a Pakistani intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with the agency's policy.
A total of 10-12 people, including six or seven children, and a woman have been seized from the compound and are all in Pakistani custody, he said. The woman, whose nationality the official would not disclose, is wounded and undergoing treatment at a hospital, he said. That bin Laden lived in Abbottabad for so long undetected has reignited long-standing suspicions that the country is playing a double game. Some U.S. lawmakers 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's defense minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro said the country's most wanted terrorist suspect Umar Patek was in Abbottabad to meet Osama bin Laden when he was arrested there early this year. Patek was injured in a raid by Pakistani intelligence agents on a house in Abbottabad on Jan. 25, but news of arrest only leaked out in late March. A senior American counterterrorism official said Patek's arrest in Abbottabad "appears to have been pure coincidence" and that there were no indications that Patek met with bin Laden in Abbottabad. AP