Anti-Americanism pulses through Pakistani town where Osama bin Laden was killed

After Osama bin Laden's death in Abbottabad, anti-American feelings in this garrison town are running high, partly because of a strong sense that Pakistan’s sovereignty has been violated.

Anjum Naveed/AP
Local residents gather outside a house, where Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was caught and killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on Tuesday, May 3.

Residents in the area surrounding the compound where Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad, say Pakistani security officials only arrived on the scene after Sunday's night's fighting had ended and did not know what had happened or where it happened.

“The patrol cars arrived 20 minutes after the firefight. They asked people where the explosions had happened,” says Muhammad Sadiq, a young Islamic teacher at the local mosque. "The Pakistan Army is based here, why weren't they trusted to arrest him?" he adds.

The details appear to confirm US officials' accounts that Pakistani authorities were neither involved in nor briefed on the US operation to capture the Al Qaeda leader. That realization is bolstering the sense here that Pakistan’s sovereignty has been violated, and anti-American passions are now pulsing through this garrison town.

“The Pakistani Army had no idea what was going on. They charged in without a clue,” says a construction worker who spoke on condition of anonymity. “For the Americans to come here and take people away from our area is a big insult to us. If I had been there I would have killed the Americans myself.”

Why locals didn't know bin Laden was there

Neighbors and residents interviewed by the Monitor said they had never seen bin Laden, but were familiar with two middle-aged Pashtun brothers cited in reports as his couriers, named Ahmed and Rashid.

“They were very well liked in the area,” says Bashir, who says the “family” had been in the area for close to seven years. “They would go to peoples' houses sometimes participate in peoples' family celebrations like births and condolences, but would never call people to their own house,” he adds.

Ahmad Jan, a teenage student whose home overlooked the compound, says he recalls that every morning a bright red truck would enter the compound, and leave at night. “I would pass by the house sometimes and think they were some kind of special people.”

Despite these oddities, few seemed interested in knowing more about the resident of the compound whom most assumed were wealthy Pashtun migrants, or “Khan jees” in local slang.

The high barbed-wire walls were seen as a token of the family’s religious conservatism.

“Some people guessed there may be more to it than met the eye, but no one could imagine it was [bin Laden],” adds Munawar Iqbal, a construction boss whose property overlooks the compound. “But if we knew [it was bin Laden] we would protect him as our guest. Whatever you say about him, he was a brave man. ”

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A steady fire was seen rising from the compound through Tuesday morning and afternoon, with many speculating that the last of the building’s furniture was being burned. By late afternoon, the house was handed over to police and members of the public, and press flocked to the building’s perimeter, which contained a large, empty courtyard surrounded by scorched walls. Children played in the maize fields around the compound, picking up small pieces of the helicopter that was destroyed during the raid.

Despite such scenes, though, there is a palpable sense of anger here at both the United States and Pakistan’s civilian government, whom many believe have “sold out” the country.

“America calls itself a champion of democracy and justice, but where is the justice here? There was no due process, it seems like rule of the jungle,” says Abdur Razzak Abbasi, a local leader with the Jaamat-e-Islami political party. Many Pakistanis also feel the decision to bury bin Laden at sea was a desecration. Bashir, the construction worker, warns: “Osama may be more dangerous to the West dead than he was alive.”

Protests by religious parties were held across Pakistan Monday evening, including a funeral prayer for bin Laden held by the banned Jamaat-ud-Dawa in Lahore, though have so far remained fairly limited.

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