May 4, 2011

Property records give new insights into bin Laden

Nahal Toosi and Zarar Khan, The Associated Press

ABBOTTABAD, Pakistan — The Pakistani who owned the compound that sheltered Osama bin Laden in his final years said he was buying the property for "an uncle," according to the doctor who sold a piece of the land in 2005.

The man was identified in property records as Mohammad Arshad; neighbors said one of two Pakistani men living in the house went by the name Arshad Khan. 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.

Among those in that inner circle were Arshad and another man who has been identified as either his brother or cousin. Arshad is suspected as the courier who ultimately led the Americans to bin Laden, unwittingly, after years of painstaking tracking. American officials said the courier and his brother were killed in the American commando raid Monday in the northwestern Pakistani town of Abbottabad.

The true identities of the two confidants and their exact links to other high ranking al-Qaida figures remain one of the biggest mysteries surrounding bin Laden. But more details about one of the key aides to bin Laden emerged Wednesday.

Qazi Mahfooz Ul Haq, a doctor, told The Associated Press today 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.

Neighbors identified Arshad Khan as one of two Pakistani men living in the house where bin Laden hid for up to six years.

Property records obtained by The Associated Press show Mohammad Arshad bought adjoining plots in four stages between 2004 and 2005 for $48,000.

"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.

U.S. officials have identified the courier who unwittingly led them to bin Laden 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 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.

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