Monday, May 2, 2016

5 years since bin Laden death, conspiracy theories abound

It’s been five years since U.S. Navy Seals raided a three-story compound in Pakistan’s northwestern garrison city of Abbotabad and killed Osama bin Laden, America’s most-wanted terrorist.  Residents of district in which America’s most-wanted was killed still have trouble swallowing official version of events


Journalists from the national and international media visit the area every May 2, but seldom find locals who believe the official narrative put out by Washington and Islamabad -- namely, that U.S. Navy Seals conducted the deadly mission without the support or knowledge of Pakistan’s army.

Few local residents buy the story. Even those living next to the compound do not believe that the world’s most wanted man had been their neighbor for years.


Now there is nothing but a heap of rubble and concrete slabs where the compound once stood.

Over the last five years, the street -- now known as "Bin Laden Street" -- has seen the construction of several new homes. The onion and potato fields that once surrounded the compound have since been converted into modern farmland.

Most visitors have trouble believing that this was the place that once dominated world headlines.

In the five years since the dramatic events that took place here, there has been no dearth of conspiracy theories regarding bin Laden’s death, the most common of which is that bin Laden never lived here at all; that the entire episode was nothing more than elaborate theater by Pakistan and the U.S.

"What Osama bin Laden? There was never any such person here," Aftab Qureshi, a resident of Bilal Town, the official name of the locality in which the compound is located, told Anadolu Agency.

"If he was living here, then what were all those intelligence officials -- whose offices surrounded the so-called bin Laden compound -- doing all those years?" Qureshi asked.

He was referring to the local offices of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), Military Intelligence, Intelligence Bureau and other intelligence agencies located within a half-kilometer radius of the compound.

The location of the Pakistani army’s Kakul training academy -- a mere 600 meters from the compound -- has added to the chorus of conspiracy theories.

"If someone was standing on the roof of the [bin Laden] compound, he could have easily hit the army chief, who inspects an annual military parade," Mohamed Ashfaq, another Abbotabad resident, said.

According to Ashfaq, each year before the parade, army personnel collect the details of local residents -- and their guests -- for security reasons.

"Can you believe a three-story compound was built only a few hundred meters from such a highly sensitive military installation [i.e., the Kakul academy] and the army didn’t care or inquire about it?" he asked.

He went on to question how the U.S., which claimed that top Pakistani officials had known of bin Laden’s whereabouts, could -- if that that were the case -- still consider Islamabad "a reliable ally in the war against terrorism".

"For most Pakistanis, this is incomprehensible," he said.


Atif Hussein, an Abbottabad-based journalist, believes local residents have good reason to doubt the official story.

"I’ve spoken to scores of people who lived near the compound," Hussein told Anadolu Agency. "Although some of them were next-door neighbors, they never saw anything to suggest that such a high-profile figure had lived there."

What’s more, he added, the compound’s owners -- the Khan Brothers -- were well-known to the area and not at all inclined to extremism.

"People generally believe the whole drama was staged to give U.S. forces a face-saving exit from Afghanistan," Hussein said.

"If the U.S. had produced pictures of a dead bin Laden -- as it did with [Libya’s] Muammar Qaddafi and [Iraq’s] Saddam Hussein -- there would have been little room for all these conspiracy theories," the journalist added.


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