What It's Like to Be Osama Bin Laden's Neighbor

Abbottabad residents's stories involve bin Laden's soda preference

This article is from the archive of our partner .

You know that recurring element of crime stories, where shocked neighbors tell reporters that the criminal "seemed like a perfectly nice guy?" That's kind of where we are in the Osama bin Laden saga.

As the week begins, we're hearing more from Osama bin Laden's neighbors in Bilal Town, a leafy, upper-middle-class neighborhood with many retired Pakistani army officers in the city of Abbottabad. The Los Angeles Times describes the tourist destination, nestled in the Himalayan foothills, as "a quiet neighborhood of pastel-colored homes adorned with columns and terrazzo porches." It's now also a place with many startled residents (in the photo above, men sit on the debris from bin Laden's compound). One fruit vendor tells The Wall Street Journal that he and other locals are "stunned" that "such an important person was living--and subsequently killed--here."

Bin Laden's people, it seems, were a reclusive bunch. Locally, the Journal learns, bin Laden's heavily fortified compound, situated on an expanse of green farmland, was known as the "Waziristan Mansion," since neighbors believed it was owned by a man from the Pakistani tribal region along the Afghan border. Residents tell the Journal that one man whom they saw entering the compound identified himself as Rashid but often changed his story, claiming one day that he was in the transportation business and the next that he was a money changer. Other neighbors inform CNN's Nic Robertson that bin Laden's people identified themselves as gold merchants and kept to themselves, rarely venturing outside. When local children kicked balls over the compound's walls, they couldn't retrieve them and received money from someone in bin Laden's entourage instead (the account makes the plot of The Sandlot seem lame). Other neighbor accounts describe people only leaving the compound to go to the mosque and the fleeting image of a "stout man driving a red van." One neighbor explained to Bloomberg that she knew Arabic-speaking women lived in the house because her children heard them through the gate one day.

The compound was also an intimidating place. Residents tell the L.A. Times that security cameras spied on anyone who approached. One day last month, according to Bloomberg, a neighbor knocked on the gate to recommend turning off the compound's powerful security lights because electricity is so expensive. A Pakistani opened the door and grew angry, inquiring, "Who told you to come here?"

Then there's the matter of bin Laden's food consumption habits. The grocer Anjum Qaisar, who works 150 meters from the compound, tells Bloomberg that Rashid and Akbar Khan, who owned bin Laden's compound, drove to his store regularly in a Pajero or small Suzuki van and bought enough food for ten people, favoring Pepsi and Coke equally. Qaisar said the Khans "always bought the best brands--Nestle milk, the good-quality soaps and shampoos. They always paid cash, never asked for credit." He added that while he was curious about why they bought food in bulk, "I did not want to be rude by asking." The Khans, who spoke in the Pashtu-language accents of Waziristan, told neighbors "they had fled a violent tribal feud in Waziristan to seek a calmer life in Abbottabad," according to Bloomberg.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.