Pakistan begins demolishing Osama bin Laden's house
PESHAWAR, Pakistan |
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistani forces began demolishing the house where al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. special forces last May, in an unexplained move carried out in the dark of night.
The boundary wall and upper portion of the building in Abbottabad had already been destroyed by midnight, Karim Khan, a senior police official in the town, told Reuters.
"Yes, we have begun demolition work on the Osama house," he said. "This is a joint operation of the local administration and security forces."
He did not say why the compound was being demolished - a move that marks an ignominious end to the site of both one of the most daring raids in U.S. special forces history, and one of the most embarrassing episodes for the Pakistani Army.
Bin Laden was killed in a daring night-time raid by commandos after a 10-year manhunt that spanned the globe.
On the moonless night of May 2, Navy SEALs swooped in on specially modified Blackhawk choppers, forced their way to the top floor of the house and killed bin Laden with shots to the head and the chest.
During the raid, one of the helicopters was damaged and forced to land, leaving the SEAL team to pile into the remaining chopper along with the al Qaeda chief's body. The Pakistani army says it never knew what happened.
While the raid was lauded in the United States, Pakistan reacted angrily to what it said was a violation of its sovereignty.
Residents said the compound, which had been off-limits to townspeople since the raid, was surrounded by a heavy contingent of troops and at least five construction cranes.
"After arriving in the area, they cordoned the entire town from all sides and didn't allow local residents to come or go out of the area," local resident Momin Khan said.
He said they believed the army would use explosives to blow up the building but that did not happen.
"They installed heavy lights around the building and started first demolishing the boundary walls. The area was completely cordoned off and there was no media in the area," he said.
"Local residents tried to capture pictures of the demolition process of the famous building but many of them couldn't succeed due to dark."
It was unclear why the Pakistanis had decided to demolish it now. "I think they finally decided to get rid of it as it was of no use," a senior government official in Abbottabad said, asking for anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Another senior official there said residents faced numerous problems due security measures since the raid, saying it was better to remove it altogether and let the people live their lives.
The United States has said it kept the raid secret because it feared elements within Pakistan - possibly connected with its spy agency or military - could tip off bin Laden.
The relationship has never recovered. It deteriorated further after a November 26, 2011 attack by NATO helicopters on a Pakistan border post left 24 Pakistani soldiers dead.
Pakistan has closed off NATO supply routes to troops in Afghanistan. A Pakistani doctor who helped the United States verify bin Laden's location in Abbottabad is in a military prison facing possible treason charges for working for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
(Additional reporting by Saud Mehsud in DERA ISMAIL KHAN; Writing by Chris Allbritton Editing by Maria Golovnina)
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