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Bin Laden mansion drew local suspicion for years

Bin Laden mansion: the highly secretive lives of those who lived inside the Osama bin Laden mansion had neighbors curious. Questions still remain as to whether the Pakistani government knew bin Laden lived inside.

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Bin Laden found it safe enough to stay for up to six years, according to U.S. officials, a stunning length of time to remain in one place right under the noses of a U.S.-funded army that had ostensibly been trying to track him down. Most intelligence assessments believed him to be along the Afghan-Pakistan border, perhaps in a cave.

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Construction of the three-story house began about seven years ago, locals said. People initially were curious about the heavily fortified compound — which had walls as high as 18 feet topped with barbed wire — but over time they just grew to believe the family inside was deeply religious and conservative.

The Pakistani government also pushed back at suggestions that security forces were sheltering bin Laden or failed to spot suspicious signs.

"It needs to be appreciated that many houses (in the northwest) have high boundary walls, in line with their culture of privacy and security," the government said. "Houses with such layout and structural details are not a rarity."

The house has been described as a mansion, even a luxury one, but from the outside it is nothing special. Bin Laden may have well have been able to take in a view of the hills from secluded spots in the garden, though.

The walls are stained with mold, trees are in the garden and the windows are hidden. U.S. officials said the house had no Internet or phone connection to reduce the risk of electronic surveillance. They also said residents burned their trash to avoid collection.

Those who live nearby said the people in bin Laden's compound rarely strayed outside. Most were unaware that foreigners — bin Laden and his family are Arabs — were living there.

Khurshid Bibi, in her 70s, said one man living in the compound had given her a lift to the market in the rain. She said her grandchildren played with the kids in the house and that the adults there gave them rabbits as a gift.

But the occupants also attracted criticism.

"People were skeptical in this neighborhood about this place and these guys. They used to gossip, say they were smugglers or drug dealers. People would complain that even with such a big house they didn't invite the poor or distribute charity," said Mashood Khan, a 45-year-old farmer.

Questions persisted about how authorities could not have known who was living in the compound, especially since it was close to a prestigious military academy.

As in other Pakistani towns, hotels in Abbottabad are supposed to report the presence of foreigners to the police, as are estate agents. Abbottabad police chief Mohammed Naeem said the police followed the procedures but "human error cannot be avoided."

Reporters were allowed to get as far as the walls of the compound for the first time, but the doors were sealed.

By early Wednesday, roads leading to the compound had once again been sealed off, this time with even tighter security.

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