Bin Laden's last refuge is razed in the dead of night

Pakistan brings in the bulldozers to destroy any chance of the spot where the al-Qa'ida leader died becoming a shrine

Authorities in Pakistan last night started to tear down the compound located barely a mile from the country's premier military academy in which Osama bin Laden lived undetected for more than five years.

Military officials had warned there was concern the house could become a shrine to supporters of the dead al-Qa'ida leader.

Reports from the town of Abbottabad said local people had watched as troops started bringing in bulldozers and other heavy machinery yesterday evening and began to demolish the three-storey house.

Reports said the upper floor where Bin Laden lived, and where he was shot dead by US Navy Seals, was the first part to be destroyed.

Residents in the Bilal Town neighbourhood of Abbottabad said troops brought in three bulldozers and started to demolish the outer walls as sunset fell. Floodlights were brought in to allow the work to continue.

Ten days ago, when The Independent on Sunday visited Abbottabad, those living close to House No 3, Street No 8-A, Garga Road, said they believed the building could be turned into a clinic, a school, or a mosque. Only a few thought it would be better knocked down and the area turned into a children's park.

"I think they should build a mosque. If you build a school there, people will just associate it with Bin Laden," said one man, Shah Mohammad.

Another, Yasir Svati, who was standing outside the shop where two men who turned out to be bodyguards and couriers for Bin Laden used to buy single John Player Gold Leaf cigarettes, believed a school or college should be set up there. "They should give it to a charitable organisation. It could be used for computer training or English language training," he said. "We don't have anything like that."

There was no official word last night from Pakistan's military or its civilian government. But a senior military source previously told The IoS that the investigations at the compound had been completed and it was possible the building would be destroyed at some point. "There is an issue, in our culture, of such places becoming shrines," said the source.

Earlier it had been reported that the authorities intended to hold a "wrecking party", inviting foreign diplomats to watch the house being destroyed. The military source denied this.

The decision to demolish the whitewashed compound, and the after-dark timing, highlights the acute sensitivity of everything connected to the US raid in May last year, during which Bin Laden and his bodyguards were killed. Three wives and five of his children are still in Pakistani custody.

The raid was a huge embarrassment for the armed forces and intelligence services and triggered much speculation that at least some individuals in the Pakistani establishment must have been aware of the al-Qa'ida leader's presence. The US has always maintained that it informed no one in Pakistan in advance of the raid and said it has uncovered no evidence to suggest senior military or intelligence officials were complicit in hiding Bin Laden.

Meanwhile, a doctor, Shakeel Afridi, who carried out a phony vaccination drive in Bilal Town in order to help the CIA obtain a DNA sample from Bin Laden's family, is in custody, and could yet be charged with treason.

Kabul killings: British advisers pulled out of Afghan ministries

Britain has pulled all civilian advisers out of government buildings in Kabul after two senior US officers were shot dead within a "secure" part of Afghanistan's Interior Ministry yesterday.

The move follows the withdrawal of all International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) personnel from ministries in and around the capital for "force protection reasons".

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "As a temporary measure the British Embassy has withdrawn civilian mentors and advisers from institutions within Kabul. We will keep the situation under review."

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the shooting yesterday. Its spokesman said the gunman was able to get into the compound with the help of an accomplice in the ministry. He added that the shootings were retaliation for the burning of Korans by US soldiers at Bagram Airfield, which has sparked days of violent protests across the country.

The Americans killed were a lieutenant colonel and a major. They are believed to have been in an area used only by foreign advisers. That they were killed within the heart of the capital highlights the ability of the Taliban to mount attacks from within. "There is CCTV there and special locks. The killer would have had to have the highest security [clearance] to get to the room where they were killed," claimed an Afghan security source.

Jonathan Owen

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