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.

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, an army town that is just two hours drive from the capital.

Bin Laden was living in a large house not far from a military academy in Abbottabad. 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 "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.

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.

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