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Context of 'Mid-February 2011: US Leaders Decide Intelligence on Hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan, Is Good Enough for Action'

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Chak Shah Mohammad Khan.Chak Shah Mohammad Khan. [Source: DPA] (click image to enlarge)From 2003 until late 2005, Osama bin Laden allegedly lives in a town near Abbottabad, Pakistan. Abbottabad is where he will be killed in 2011 (see May 2, 2011). This is according to Amal Ahmed Abdul Fatah, one of bin Laden’s three wives, who will reportedly be with bin Laden when US Special Forces raid his Abbottabad compound and kill him. After the raid, Amal will talk to Pakistani investigators. She reportedly will tell them that bin Laden moves with his family to Chak Shah Mohammad Khan, a village about a mile from the town of Haripur. Haripur, in turn, is 22 miles south of Abbottabad and 40 miles north of Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. They will move to the Abbottabad compound in late 2005 (see Late 2005-Early 2006) and stay there until the raid that kills bin Laden in 2011. [Dawn (Karachi), 5/7/2011] After bin Laden’s wife mentions bin Laden’s stay in Chak Shah Mohammad Khan in May 2011, the village will be visited by many journalists and officials. It is an extremely isolated and poor village, with no phone lines and no Internet (although some do use cell phones). Villagers say they have never seen bin Laden, and most say they have never even heard of him, and have no idea what he looks like. However, most villagers also do not rule out that he could have hidden nearby. There are a series of abandoned caves near the village, and bin Laden’s wife has said they lived in one of the caves. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 5/9/2011]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Amal Ahmed Abdul Fatah

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Satellite imagery of Bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound in 2004 and 2011.Satellite imagery of Bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound in 2004 and 2011. [Source: U.S. Defense Department]Osama bin Laden’s trusted courier Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed moves to Abbottabad, Pakistan, and buys up land there that will be used for a hideout for bin Laden. Ahmed, who is using a variety of aliases, moves to the town with his brother Abrar, who is also assisting bin Laden. A Pakistani government official will later say that a plot of land in Abbottabad is bought by a man named Mohammad Arshad on January 22, 2004. A forged national identity card and incorrect address is used. In fact, “Mohammad Arshad” is one of the aliases used by Ahmed. That, along with the related name “Arshad Khan,” is the name Abbottabad neighbors will know him by in future years. [Dawn (Karachi), 5/7/2011] Property records obtained by the Associated Press show that “Arshad” buys two more plots of land in November 2004. The seller will later say that he does not meet Arshad in person, but deals with him through a middle man. A doctor sells another plot of land to “Arshad” in 2005. This doctor will later say that he does meet “Arshad” in person during the transaction. The plots are combined so a walled compound can be built that is much larger than other homes in the neighborhood. The doctor will occasionally see “Arshad” after that, and at one point the doctor will be cryptically told by him that the land he sold is now very valuable. [Associated Press, 5/4/2011] Locals will later say that construction on the compound begins in 2005. By late 2005 or the start of 2006, the construction is done and bin Laden will move into the compound with some of his family (see Late 2005-Early 2006). The courier Ahmed (who uses the named “Arshad”), his brother, and their families will live there too. [New York Times, 5/3/2011; Associated Press, 5/4/2011] In March 2011, a US strike force will assault the compound and kill bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).

Entity Tags: Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

An illustration of the Abbottabad compound.An illustration of the Abbottabad compound. [Source: CIA]US intelligence officials come to believe more strongly that they have found Osama bin Laden. US intelligence officials have tracked al-Qaeda courier Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed (a.k.a. Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti) to a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in August 2010 (see July 2010), and by September they are so convinced that bin Laden is hiding there that they inform President Obama about this (see September 1, 2010). Bin Laden is not directly seen by surveillance, but there are many clues suggesting he could be there:
bullet Most importantly, Ahmed fits the profile of an ideal courier for bin Laden, and Ahmed lives at the compound.
bullet The compound is surrounded by 12- to 18-foot high walls topped with barbed wire.
bullet However, there is no telephone or Internet in the compound. This would seem to be an unusual security precaution, but it also makes the compound hard to monitor.
bullet The compound sits on a large plot of land and is about eight times larger than the other homes in the neighborhood.
bullet The people in the compound burn their trash instead of leaving it out for collection, like the other neighbors.
bullet The main three-story building in the compound has few outside windows.
bullet Ahmed and the others known to live in the compound have no known source of wealth that could explain how they pay the expenses of running the compound. [CNN, 5/2/2011]
bullet There are no balconies, except for those covered with more high walls. Balconies are a standard feature for wealthy houses like this one in Pakistan. One neighbor will later comment: “It’s not a proper house. It’s more like a warehouse. It’s not like a home where anyone would want to live.” [Daily Telegraph, 5/3/2011]
A senior Obama administration official will later say, “When we saw the compound where the brothers lived, we were shocked by what we saw—an extraordinarily unique compound.” He adds that intelligence analysts conclude the compound was “custom-built to hide someone of significance.… Everything we saw… was perfectly consistent with what our experts expected bin Laden’s hideout to look like.” [CNN, 5/2/2011] However, according to the Associated Press, US intelligence has known about the compound “for years,” but it did not think bin Laden would live there because there were no security guards. [Associated Press, 5/2/2011] Months later, a US strike force will assault the compound and kill bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, Barack Obama, Leon Panetta, US intelligence

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

US intelligence begins intensively spying on the Abbottabad, Pakistan, compound where they strongly suspect Osama bin Laden is hiding (see August-September 2010). The compound was discovered on August 1, 2010 (see August 1, 2010). The Washington Post will later report that “virtually every category of [intelligence] collection in the US arsenal” is used, including satellite imagery and attempts to record voices inside the compound.
CIA Safehouse - The efforts include a CIA safehouse located somewhere near the compound. Abbottabad is a tourist town with pleasant weather and colonial era charm, enabling strangers to easily come and go without attracting suspicion. The CIA takes advantage of that atmosphere to send CIA operatives and informants into the town to gather information. A former US official will say, “The [main compound building] was three stories high, and you could watch it from a variety of angles.” Moving there “was his biggest mistake.” [Washington Post, 5/6/2011]
Escape Tunnel? - Analysts even study the water tables in the area in an attempt to figure out if bin Laden could have an escape tunnel. They conclude the soil is too wet to build a tunnel. [ABC News, 5/19/2011]
Intelligence Allegedly Still Lacking - The surveillance is so extensive that in December 2010, the CIA has to secretly get Congress to reallocate tens of millions of dollars within various agency budgets to help fund it. But US intelligence is allegedly unable to get a clearly identifiable picture or voice recording of bin Laden before the raid that eventually kills him. The CIA safehouse is abandoned shortly after the May 2, 2011 raid that kills bin Laden (see May 2, 2011), since it has served its purpose. [Washington Post, 5/6/2011]

Entity Tags: US intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Abdul Hameed Sohail at his house in Abbottabad.Abdul Hameed Sohail at his house in Abbottabad. [Source: Associated Press]On January 25, 2011, radical militant Umar Patek is arrested by Pakistani intelligence agents in a house in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Patek is Indonesia’s most wanted terrorist suspect at the time, because he is the only major suspect wanted for the 2002 Bali bombing who has not yet been killed or captured. The US issued a $1 million bounty on him in 2005 (see October 6, 2005 and After). Patek has $1 million in cash on him when he is arrested, and he is shot in the leg during the arrest. News of Patek’s arrest will become public in late March 2011 (see March 30, 2011). [Associated Press, 5/4/2011; Independent, 5/8/2011] The CIA worked with other countries to get Patek. But Patek stays imprisoned in Pakistan, unlike many other terrorist suspects captured in Pakistan who are deported to the US or elsewhere. [Associated Press, 3/30/2011]
Is Patek There to See to Bin Laden? - After Osama bin Laden is killed in Abbottabad in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011), an unnamed senior US counterterrorism official will say that Patek’s presence in the town “appears to have been pure coincidence” and there is no evidence that Patek was meeting with bin Laden there. However, Indonesian Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro will later say, “The information we have is that Umar Patek… was in Pakistan with his Filipino wife trying to meet Osama Bin Laden.” Indonesian counterterrorism official Chairul Akbar will further explain that Patek was there to meet bin Laden and get his “support and protection.” Akbar says that Patek “was instructed to go to Abbottabad to meet other militants.” He will also claim that Patek may have met other al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan, but he had not yet met with bin Laden before his arrest. [Associated Press, 5/4/2011] Patek’s arrest takes place less than two miles away from where bin Laden is hiding. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 5/18/2011]
Link to Bin Laden's Key Courier - The Independent will report after bin Laden’s death that Patek met with Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed (a.k.a. Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti), an al-Qaeda courier who is living with bin Laden in an Abbottabad compound at the time. By this time, US intelligence is intensively monitoring the compound and everyone in it (see August 2010-May 2, 2011). However, the compound is not searched by the Pakistanis during the raid that got Patek, or in the months afterward. [Independent, 5/3/2011]
Link to Another Al-Qaeda Courier - Additionally, two French men, Sharaf Deen and Zohaib Afza, are arrested in Lahore, Pakistan, on January 23, 2001. One of them was born in Pakistan and the other was a convert to Islam. A Pakistani named Tahir Shehzad is arrested with them. Investigators will later say that they trailed Shehzad from Abbottabad to Lahore, and that the French men planned to travel with Patek to Pakistan’s tribal region where many al-Qaeda leaders are hiding. Shehzad gave up Patek’s location, which led to his arrest two days later. Later press reports will call Shehzad an “alleged al-Qaeda facilitator” who worked as a clerk in the Abbottabad post office. Pakistani intelligence had Shehzad under surveillance since 2010, when he was seen in Abbottabad with an “Arab terror suspect” (see August 2010). [Associated Press, 4/14/2011; Associated Press, 4/14/2011; News (Islamabad), 5/3/2011]
Waiting in Abbottabad for Someone? - Abbottabad resident Abdul Hameed Sohail will later tell the press that his son found Patek and Patek’s wife cold and shivering in the street, and he ended up feeling sorry for them and let them stay in his house. They were given an upstairs room, and for nine days they rarely left the room or even ate the food that he left for them. Finally, Pakistani officials raided the house, shot Patek, and took him away. Sohail is not arrested. However, his son Kashif is arrested as an accomplice, and will still be in custody three months later. Patek and his wife had arrived in Pakistan five months earlier, traveling with forged passports, but it is not known where they were in Pakistan prior to Abbottabad. (Nor is it known what happens to his wife.) [Associated Press, 4/14/2011; News (Islamabad), 5/3/2011; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 5/18/2011]
CIA Tip Off - It also will later be reported that the CIA gave key information to Pakistan about Patek being in Pakistan, which led to his arrest. It may be that the CIA gave the information that Patek had gone to Pakistan five months earlier under another name. [Associated Press, 3/30/2011] In hindsight, this is interesting since the CIA is part of the surveillance of bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound at the time, and news of Patek’s arrest could have threatened the effort to find bin Laden.

Entity Tags: Kashif Sohail, Osama bin Laden, Chairul Akbar, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, Umar Patek, Abdul Hameed Sohail, Al-Qaeda, Zohaib Afza, Purnomo Yusgiantoro, Tahir Shehzad

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

By mid-February 2011, top US officials are convinced that a “high-value target” is hiding in the recently discovered compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see August 2010-May 2, 2011). If Osama bin Laden is not hiding there, someone nearly as important is. Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan will later say: “They were confident and their confidence was growing: ‘This is different. This intelligence case is different. What we see in this compound is different than anything we’ve ever seen before.‘… I was confident that we had the basis to take action.” President Obama decides he wants to take action. However, Obama still has to decide what to do exactly. The situation is a difficult one, because the compound is located deep inside Pakistan. He and his advisers will discuss options later in the month (see February 25, 2011). [Associated Press, 5/2/2011]

Entity Tags: John O. Brennan, Osama bin Laden, Barack Obama

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

A meeting about Osama bin Laden’s possible hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see 2003-Late 2005 and January 22, 2004-2005), is held at CIA headquarters. The attendees include commander of Joint Special Operations Command Navy Vice Admiral William McRaven, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers, vice chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General James Cartwright, CIA Director Leon Panetta, and other senior CIA officials. They meet around a large and highly accurate scale model of the suspect Abbottabad compound built by the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency from satellite imagery. They discuss the intelligence about the compound and possible courses of action. Three choices of action are discussed: a Stealth bomber bomb strike; a Special Forces helicopter raid; and a joint operation raid with the Pakistani government. Analysts have concluded that there is a high-value target in the compound (which is now called Abbottabad Compound One, or AC1), and there is a strong possibility that the target is bin Laden. However, it is also possible the target could be someone else important like al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri or top Taliban leader Mullah Omar, or bin Laden’s family could be there without him. To be more certain, a “red team” analysis is ordered, which means that analysts so far unaware of the compound are given the evidence and asked to critically appraise it. [Wall Street Journal, 5/23/2011; ABC News, 6/9/2011] Three months later, a US strike force will assault the compound and kill bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).

Entity Tags: Michael Vickers, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Central Intelligence Agency, Leon Panetta, Osama bin Laden, William H. McRaven, Mullah Omar, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, James Cartwright

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound in flames. Apparently, the fires are mainly due to a crashed US helicopter. The picture comes from a neighbor’s cell phone.Bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound in flames. Apparently, the fires are mainly due to a crashed US helicopter. The picture comes from a neighbor’s cell phone. [Source: Reuters] (click image to enlarge)Osama bin Laden is shot and killed inside a secured private residential compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, according to US government sources. The operation is carried out by US Navy SEAL Team Six, the “Naval Special Warfare Development Group.” The covert operation takes place at 1:00 a.m. local time (+4:30GMT). Two US helicopters from bases in Afghanistan fly low over the compound in Abbottabad, and 30 to 40 SEALs disembark and storm the compound. According to White House sources, bin Laden and at least four others are killed. The team is on the ground for only 40 minutes; most of that time is spent searching the compound for information about al-Qaeda and its plans. The helicopters are part of the 160th Special Ops Air Regiment, itself a detachment from the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). The CIA oversees the operation, but the operation is tasked to, and carried out by, Special Forces. When President Obama announces bin Laden’s death, he says: “His demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity. Justice has been done.” Of the soldiers that eliminated bin Laden, and the other military personnel deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and elsewhere, Obama says: “We are reminded that we are fortunate to have Americans who dedicate their lives to protecting ours. We may not always know their names, we may not always know their stories, but they are there every day on the front lines of freedom and we are truly blessed.” The members of Team Six are never identified, and it is unlikely their names will ever be made public. [CNN News, 5/1/2011; ABC News, 5/2/2011] Bin Laden is said to have ordered the 9/11 attacks, among other al-Qaeda strikes against American and Western targets. In a 1997 CNN interview, he declared “jihad,” or “holy war,” against the US. He had been number one on American military and law enforcement “Most Wanted” lists well before the 9/11 attacks. [CNN News, 5/1/2011]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, US Department of the Navy, Obama administration, Al-Qaeda, Leon Panetta, Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), US Naval Special Warfare Development Group, Joint Special Operations Command, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

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