Cairo / London, Asharq Al-Awsat – Where is Osama Bin Laden hiding? That was the major question being pursued by intelligence agencies across the world following the terrible events of 9/11; is he hiding in the tribal areas along the Pakistan – Afghanistan border? In northern or southern Waziristan? Or has he perhaps fled to another country, such as Iran? Few could have guessed that he would be found hiding in a lavish residential compound in Abbottabad just two hours from the Pakistani capital Islamabad, and indeed just miles from a Pakistani military base.
Sheikh Nabil Abdul Rahman, also known as Abu Massoud al-Masri, worked closely with Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in the late 1980s, he told Asharq Al-Awsat that Bin Laden’s location was discovered by US intelligence through “betrayal.” He said that “I believe this time the betrayal was on the part of the Pakistani intelligence, or from some Pakistanis who Bin Laden trusted.”
Abdul Rahman said that “it would not have been as easy as it is being imagined to gain access to the Al Qaeda leader.” He added that “the issue is that somebody sold him out…not somebody close to him, somebody else.” He said that “I dealt with him previously in Afghanistan, and know that he is cautious and secretive and follows strict security procedures, including searching and investigating [all those he comes into contact with].’ He added that “even children who are to be in the same place as Bin Laden are searched.”
As for Bin Laden being unexpectedly discovered living in a large residential compound in an affluent town not far from the Pakistani capital Islamabad, Abdul Rahman told Asharq Al-Awsat that “I believe that he remained in this residential compound due to the illnesses he suffered over the past years.” He said “according to my past knowledge of him, I believe he probably said to himself that he had the right to stay wherever he wanted, so long as he remained free from discovery or prosecution.”
He also told Al-Awsat that “the manner in which Bin Laden died was honorable, he died in battle…and his body was buried at sea [by the Americans] so that his grave could not be turned into a shrine by his followers.”
Whilst another jihadist with ties to Osama Bin Laden, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, said that Bin Laden wanted stability after years of living on the run, and that this was the greatest mistake that he made, particularly as he was wanted by most intelligence agencies around the world.
A former Al Qaeda member, who renounced Islamist ideology, also told Asharq Al-Awsat that he believed that “the Al Qaeda leader was made ill by the wars and the financial and intellectual blockade, and the international pursuit of him, and was frustrated due to the changing circumstances of time.” He said “I believe that he tired, and decided to surrender to his fate. I believe that he knew that if he settled down…this would signal the end.” He added “people such as him should not reside in one place for long.”
US sources informed Asharq Al-Awsat that a number of factors led to the success of the military operation against Bin Laden, most importantly the complete secrecy under which this operation took place. The source added that this was a sole US operation, and no other country took part in the military operation on the ground, nor was any other country or intelligence service aware of the information obtained by the US intelligence regarding Osama Bin Laden’s presence in the residential compound in Abbottabad.
The US reportedly discovered the location of Osama Bin Laden by tracking the movement of one of his trusted lieutenants, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, after learning his name approximately 4 years ago, according to US officials.
Following the death of Osama Bin Laden, Egyptian Islamist Dr. Hani al-Sibai, who is the director of the “Al-Maqrizi Center” in London, issued a statement saying that “it is worth noting that in the hours following US President Barack Obama’s announcement of the death of Bin Laden, all Islamist forums, whether they are sympathetic to the Al Qaeda ideology or not, refrained from issuing any obituary of the late Al Qaeda leader.”
Dr. al-Sibai attributed this to these Islamist forums waiting for the As-Sahab or Al-Fajr media centers, which are affiliated to the Al Qaeda organization, to confirm the news and issue an official obituary of the Al Qaeda leader. Al-Sibai told Asharq Al-Awsat that the “Al Qaeda Jihad” organization – which was an organization formed by the merger of the Al Qaeda organization run by Osama Bin Laden with the Egyptian Islamic Jihad group run by Al Qaeda no 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri – has yet to issue any statement or response to the killing of the group’s leader.
Dr. Hani al-Sibai also told Asharq Al-Awsat he did not believe Bin Laden’s death signaled the end of Al Qaeda or its ideology, he said “I do not believe that such [religious] fundamentalist organization die with the death of their leader or emir; over the past 20 years Bin Laden gave rise to generations that hold the ideology of jihad and fighting against the presence of occupiers in Islamic lands, it is not necessary for these generations to be members of his parent organization, it is enough that they are ideologically affiliated to Al Qaeda.”
He added “local [Al Qaeda] groups formed in Pakistan, Indonesia, and Iraq, to play the same role as the parent Al Qaeda organization, in addition to this there is [also] Al Qaeda in Yemen, and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, as well as Al Qaeda affiliates and sympathizers within the Pakistani Taliban, the Chechen mujahedeen, the Somali Al-Shabab movement, as well as the silent people who live among us and who love Osama Bin Laden as a hero who challenged US hegemony.”
Jihadist internet forums were full of posts threatening the US for the killing of the Al Qaeda leader, with the US federal government announcing that it remained at a “heightened state of vigilance” although the US Department of Homeland Security had not raised the threat level. One Arabic jihadist forum included a post threatening the US with reprisals, adding that “Bin Laden may have been killed, but his message of jihad will never die.” Whilst another post read “Oh God, please make this news not true…God curse you Obama!” Another message threatened the people of America, noting “it is still legal for us to cut your necks!”
Egyptian Islamist Yassir al-Sirri, the director of the Islamic Observation Center in London told Asharq Al-Awsat that “Bin Laden wanted one of two things: victory or martyrdom.” He added that “the Al Qaeda leader met his God willingly but in an unplanned manner” and that “he died an honorable death.”
He told Asharq Al-Awsat that “Bin Laden was betrayed by Pakistani intelligence which was aware of his presence in the residential compound in the town of Abbottabad in Pakistan.” He also stated that “Bin Laden was successful in mobilizing the Muslim youth through the Al Qaeda ideology” claiming that “there are huge groups of youth who are linked to Bin Laden’s ideology…but who are not affiliated to the parent organization itself.”
Yassir al-Sirri also stated that “the [Al Qaeda] Shura Council will choose an appropriate time to meet and choose Bin Laden’s successor, and this is expected to be his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, but this may take some time, and there are security procedures in place for such a scenario.”