Bin Laden compound was a command center: U.S. official

WASHINGTON Sat May 7, 2011 2:57pm EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The compound in Pakistan where U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden was an active command center from which he directed al Qaeda, a senior intelligence official said on Saturday as he released videos showing bin Laden watching himself on tape and rehearsing speeches.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said information carted away from the compound by U.S. forces following Monday's raid represented the largest trove of intelligence ever obtained from a single terrorism suspect.

"This compound in Abbottabad was an active command and control center for al Qaeda's top leader and it's clear ... that he was not just a strategic thinker for the group," the official said. "He was active in operational planning and in driving tactical decisions."

The official released five video clips of bin Laden taken from the compound, most of them showing the al Qaeda leader, his beard dyed black, evidently rehearsing the videotaped speeches he occasionally distributed to his followers.

One video segment, however, showed a gray-bearded bin Laden in a more casual setting wrapped in a blanket and apparently wearing a ski cap while watching videotapes of himself. The official said the personal nature of the videos was further evidence that the man killed in the raid was bin Laden.

The official said bin Laden's body had been confirmed in several different ways, including identification by a woman at the compound, facial recognition methods and matching against a DNA profile with a likelihood of error of only 1 in 11.8 quadrillion.

Al Qaeda acknowledged bin Laden's death on Friday as well, and the official said it was "noteworthy that the group did not announce a new leader, suggesting it is still trying to deal with bin Laden's demise."

The official said U.S. intelligence assumed Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda's No. 2 leader, was likely to assume control of the organization but that he was disliked by some members.

"To some members of al Qaeda he's extremely controlling, is a micromanager and is not especially charismatic," the intelligence official said.

An initial review of the information taken from the compound showed that bin Laden continued to be interested in attacking the United States and "appeared to show continuing interest in transportation and infrastructure targets," the official said.

"The materials reviewed over the past several days clearly show that bin Laden remained an active leader in al Qaeda, providing strategic, operational and tactical instructions to the group," the official said. "He was far from a figurehead. he was an active player, making the recent operation even more essential for our nation's security."

(Editing by Eric Beech)