NEW YORK - Osama bin Laden moved among safe houses in northwest Pakistan disguised as a Pashtun elder before settling in Abbottabad in 2005, a retired Pakistan army officer was quoted as saying in media reports.
Brig (Retd) Shaukat Qadir said he spent months researching Osama bin Laden’s life in Abbottabad, where the al Qaeda leader died in a US Navy SEAL commando raid on May 2, the New York Times reported on Thursday. Qadir said his research started as a personal attempt to fact-check conflicting accounts of bin Laden’s last year’s in Pakistan.
‘As a former soldier, I was struck by how badly the house was defended’, he said.
‘No proper security measures, nothing high-tech–infact, nothing like you would expect’, he added.
Qadir said bin Laden’s fifth and youngest wife told interrogators that the al-Qaeda leader underwent a kidney transplant in 2002 that allowed him to survive. That statement, if true, raises questions about who was helping him, the Times said. She also told of tension between his wives in the cramped Abbottabad house and accused an older woman who occupied a separate floor in the house of betraying bin Laden to American intelligence.
According to reports, circulated by news outlets Qadir said he was given rare access to transcripts of Pakistani intelligence’s interrogation of bin Laden’s youngest wife, who was detained in the raid.
Qadir was also given rare entry into the villa, which was sealed after the raid and demolished last month.
Pictures he took showed the villa’s main staircase, splattered with blood.
Other pictures show windows protected by iron grills and the 20-foot high walls around the villa.
Qadir’s account is based on accounts by an official of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency who escorted him on a tour of the villa, the interrogation transcription he was allowed to read, and interviews with other ISI officials and al Qaeda linked militants and tribesmen in the Afghan-Pakistan border region.
The compound where bin Laden lived since mid-2005 was a crowded place, with 28 residents — including bin Laden, his three wives, eight of his children and five of his grandchildren.
The bin Laden children ranged in age from his 24-year-old son Khaled, who was killed in the raid, to a 3-year-old born during their time in Abbottabad.
Bin Laden’s courier, the courier’s brother and their wives and children also lived in the compound.
The 54-year-old bin Laden himself seemed aged beyond his years, with suspected kidney or stomach diseases, and there were worries over his mental health, Qadir said he was told by ISI officials and an al Qaeda member he interviewed in the border regions. Bin Laden lived and died on the third floor.
One room he shared with his youngest wife, Amal Ahmed Abdel-Fatah al-Sada, a Yemeni who was 19 when she married the al Qaeda leader in 1999.  Another wife, Siham Saber, lived in another room on the same floor that also served as a computer room, Qadir told Associated Press, the American news agency.
The arrival of his eldest wife, Saudi-born Khairiah Saber, in early 2011 stirred up the household, Amal said in her ISI interrogation, according to Qadir.
There was already bad blood between Khairiah, who married bin Laden in the late 1980s, and Amal because of bin Laden’s favouritism for the younger Yemeni woman, Qadir said he was told by tribal leaders who knew the family.
Amal stayed close to bin Laden as he fled Afghanistan into Pakistan following the 2001 US invasion. She took an active role in arranging protection for him and bin Laden wanted her by his side, Qadir was told.
Khairiah fled Afghanistan in 2001 into Iran alongwith other bin Laden relatives and al Qaeda figures.
She and others were held under house arrest in Iran until 2010, when Tehran let them leave in a swap for an Iranian diplomat kidnapped in Peshawar.
Khairiah showed up at Abbottabad in February or March 2011 and moved into the villa’s second floor, Amal told her interrogators.
Khalid, bin Laden’s son with Siham, was suspicious, according to Amal’s account. He repeatedly asked Khairiah why she had come. At one point, she told him, ‘I have one final duty to perform for my husband’.
Khalid immediately told his father what she had said and warned that she intended to betray him.
Amal, who shared Khalid’s fears, said bin Laden was also suspicious but was unconcerned, acting as if fate would decide, according to Qadir’s recounting of the interrogation transcript.
There is no evidence Khairiah had any role in Osama bin Laden’s killing.
Accounts by Pakistani and US intelligence officials since the May 2 raid have made no mention of her.
Instead, US officials have said the courier inadvertently led the CIA to the Abbottabad villa after they uncovered him in a monitored phone call.
The courier, a Pakistani known as Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, lived with his wife and four children on the villa’s first floor. His brother, his wife and three children lived in a guest house in the compound. Al-Kuwaiti, his brother and the brother’s wife were killed in the raid.
Bin Laden had two marriages before Khairiah that ended in divorce and had more than 20 children with his various wives.
Amal gave her interrogators details on bin Laden’s movements after fleeing Afghanistan.
She and bin Laden hid for several months in 2002 in Salman Talab, a suburb of Kohat, a northwest Pakistani border town. There bin Laden was visited at least once by Khalid Sheikh Muhammed, the 9/11 mastermind arrested in Rawalpindi on March 1, 2003.
Amal said they moved constantly to avoid being spotted for several months in South Waziristan, a border region.
In 2004, she and other family members went to Shangla, a town in the Swat Valley. Bin Laden joined them by doubling back through Afghanistan because it was feared he could be identified if he crossed Pakistan.
Later in 2004, they moved to Haripur, according to the interrogation transcripts. After several months there, they moved in the summer of 2005 to the villa in Abbottabad.
ISI officials refused to comment on Qadir’s account, according to AP. The wives and bin Laden family members who were in the villa during the raid remain in Pakistani custody.
Qadir, a 35-year veteran and now a security consultant, took it upon himself to research what happened in the May 2 raid. He relied on contacts in the ISI and in the border regions where he was long based.