When Osama bin Laden was tracked down, it was not in a cave in the wilds of Afghanistan, but in an apparently comfortable mansion only a few hundred metres from the military academy known as Pakistan’s Sandhurst.
His compound, hidden behind high security walls, was within a mile of the Pakistan Military Academy in the garrison town of Abbottabad, according to local reports.
Abbottabad is in the Hazara district of Pakistan’s northwestern Frontier Province – renamed last year as Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa province – less than 50 miles north of capital Islamabad.
Despite its proximity to the lawless tribal areas where Islamist extremists have established strongholds, the town is firmly under government control, with thousands of troops based there.
It is the headquarters of a brigade of the Second Division of the Northern Army Corps and many retired officers are understood to live there.
Bin Laden’s discovery in the town is certain to revive questions over possible collusion with al-Qaeda by elements within the Pakistani security forces.
For years, Pakistan’s ISI security agency has been blamed for fostering the Taliban movement which gave Bin Laden sanctuary in Afghanistan. But President Asif Ali Zardari has conducted a bloody military operation against militant groups in districts bordering Afghanistan, and the UK assesses that Islamabad is now committed to the fight against extremist terror.
Only last month, Prime Minister David Cameron visited Islamabad with UK military and intelligence chiefs to forge a new security partnership with Pakistan.
Security sources on both sides of the Atlantic and the Afghan government in Kabul have long said they believed Bin Laden was in Pakistan rather than Afghanistan.
He is understood to have slipped through the net as US special forces closed in on his Afghan mountain hideout of Tora Bora in 2001 in the wake of the fall of the Taliban.
For years afterwards, rumours circulated that he had found shelter in caves in militant-controlled areas of Afghanistan or remote villages in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
His video statements gave little clue to his whereabouts, and until Sunday there were no confirmed sightings of the world’s most wanted man for almost a decade.
He was eventually tracked down to a large two-storey building behind high walls in the urban area of Abbottabad.
Known as the City of Pines, Abbottabad was founded as a British garrison town in the 1840s and named after its first deputy commissioner, British officer Major James Abbott. Older parts of the town were devastated by the 2005 Kashmir earthquake.
It has remained an important military centre, but is also known for its educational establishments and is a hub for tourists exploring the Karakoram Highway.
US reports said that Bin Laden’s compound was one of the largest in an affluent neighbourhood of Abbottabad. Built around five years ago, it was estimated to be worth around $1 million.
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