Two years on, Osama’s neighbours plead for privacy

Islamabad, May 2 (IANS) Two years after US commandos killed Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, his neighbours in Abbottabad are fed up with questions from the media and other people about the incident, saying they want to be left alone.

Bin Laden, who was for a long time hunted by the US, was killed in a coordinated aerial and ground assault by US Navy SEALS May 2, 2011.

Samiaullah, 19, one of Osama’s neighbours in Abbottabad, told Xinhua that he had been interviewed by hundreds of media persons and other people interested about the assault.

“It made our life uneasy and we have lost our peace of mind,” he said.

“The media kept on asking us the same questions about bin Laden but we never saw him,” Samiaullah, who goes by one name, said, adding that this has affected his studies in college.

Zain Muhammad, 84, who was the closest neighbour of bin Laden, said that the killing of bin Laden left him with a bad experience. He said after the incident, he and his son, along with three of his neighbours, were detained for 17 days by security forces but they were never charged with any crime.

“It was the darkest moment in our lives,” Zain said.

Samiullah said that it was late at night when they heard sounds of exchange of fire and then a big fire erupted in the compound after a huge blast.

“Everything happened so fast. Nobody knew what was happening,” he recalled.

It was only the next morning when we learned from television reports that Osama was killed, Samiullah said.

Zain was more vivid in his description of the incident. He said that it was after midnight when he saw helicopters hovering above the compound from where he saw soldiers jumping. Then the firing started which was followed by a loud blast. When the firing stopped, Zain said that he saw the soldiers hurriedly left aboard their helicopters.

Like some Pakistanis, Zain, however, until now refused to believe that it was Osama that the US soldiers killed.

“We don’t know whether bin Laden was here or not. All we know was that only two Pakistani brothers lived inside the compound with their families,” Zain said.

A majority of people in the area said that they did not know much about Osama or they did not like to comment about him. “We only saw his picture on TV. We never saw him here in person,” they said.

Muhammad Latif, a retired schoolteacher, spoke cautiously.

“I know that bin Laden was the owner of a big construction company. He was well loved by the Muslims but he had some differences with the western countries and America,” Latif said.

Some residents of the town of Bilal, where Abbottabad is located, said that the killing of bin Laden has intensified terror attacks in Pakistan where some 40,000 were reported to have been killed after the start of the US-led coalition in the war against terrorism in 2011.

After two years, the spot in Abbottabad where Osama’s compound used to stand and where he spent around five years before he was killed has also lost its fascination and attraction for local people.

Following the destruction of the three-storeyed house, said to be worth $290,000, the authorities took the debris of the house to an unknown place.

What is left now is a simple plot with few cement blocks still standing, some portion covered with wild grass. There is a small spring of fresh water and two big trees under which old people of the neighborhood gather to engage in idle talks. They call the shade “Osama’s office”.

What the government intends to do with bin Laden’s compound is still not known. But early this year, tourism department of Pakistan’s northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa proposed the building of an amusement park in the area but so far no development has taken place.

An official requesting anonymity told Xinhua that putting up such a project would be very dangerous because Al Qaeda militants, which are still a potent force in Pakistan, certainly would not want the area where their idol lives would be used as an amusement or entertainment park.

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