Official says demolition will demoralize bin Laden sympathizers
Bin Laden used the place as a hideout until his death
Authorities have cordoned off the compound, keeping residents at a distance
Osama bin Laden’s hideout is being demolished, bringing an end to a symbol of American resolve and Pakistani frustration over how the operation was conducted.
Navy SEAL Team Six raided the Abbottabad compound in May 2011 and killed the al Qaeda leader. The United States did not tell Pakistan about the raid until it was over.
Pakistani authorities cordoned off the compound Saturday evening and brought in heavy machinery and flood lights to the site.
“The action was taken to keep the compound from ever becoming a shrine for bin Laden’s followers,” a Pakistani military official told CNN. “It’s a message that Pakistan doesn’t want to keep anything connected with this terrorist.”
CNN affiliate GEO-TV showed video of dust flying into the air from the compound as troops stood and watched from outside.
Destroying the compound would “demoralize senior militant leaders,” said the military official, who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media about the demolition.
The killing of bin Laden enraged the Pakistani public and deeply embarrassed its military. For U.S. President Barack Obama, the raid marked a high point. The president achieved something his predecessor failed to do: bring the terror mastermind to justice.
Bin Laden and members of his family and security detail lived only about one mile from the Pakistan Military Academy in Abbottabad.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta this year told CBS’s “60 Minutes” that he remains convinced that someone in authority in Pakistan knew that bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad, a largely military community outside the capital, Islamabad. That claim has been denied by Pakistani officials.
Panetta said there were intelligence reports of Pakistani helicopters passing over the bin Laden compound. He also questioned why the Pakistanis would not notice the vast complex with 18-foot walls.
Panetta told CBS the United States chose not to inform Pakistan of the raid due to security concerns.
“We had seen some military helicopters actually going over this compound. And for that reason, it concerned us that, if we, in fact, brought (Pakistan) into it, that they might … give bin Laden a heads up.”
But after the interview aired, Pentagon press secretary George Little said Panetta “has seen no evidence that bin Laden was supported by the Pakistani government or that senior Pakistani officials knew he was hiding in the Abbotabad compound.”
U.S.-Pakistani relations remain tense, in part because of U.S. drone strikes inside the country. Pakistan has in essence halted much of its cooperation with the United States while its parliament reassess future terms of engagement with Washington following the U.S. airstrike in November that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the border with Afghanistan.
Ramifications of the bin Laden raid are still reverberating.
Pakistan has not yet decided whether to try a Pakistani doctor for high treason for assisting the United States in gathering intelligence ahead of the raid, a senior Pakistani government official said late last month.
Dr. Shakeel Afridi allegedly helped the CIA use a vaccination campaign in an attempt to collect DNA samples from residents of bin Laden’s compound in an effort to verify the terror leader’s presence there ahead of the 2011 raid.
The role of the doctor was first reported by the British newspaper, The Guardian, last July. It cited unnamed Pakistani and U.S. officials.
The Guardian said it isn’t known whether the CIA “managed to obtain any bin Laden DNA, although one source suggested the operation did not succeed.”
CNN’s Reza Sayah and journalists Nasir Habib, Zubair Ayoub and Tahir Shah contributed to this report.