While headlines are being dominated today with news of Osama bin Laden's death, little is known about the north-west Pakistan city of Abbottabad, in which bin Laden lived before he was killed.
It's clear that the al-Qaeda leader and his followers were safe to keep their distance from locals, living without internet or phone connections and going as far as burning their trash so they would never have to leave it on the street for collection. Still, the city they lived in has an estimated population of 120,000 people, and the nearest military base was so close by the two could be neighbors.
Strong Military Presence
According to Reuters, the house bin Laden was living in – described as a mansion surrounded by walls at least 10-feet high and topped with barbed wire – stood fourth in a row of about 12 other houses, meaning bin Laden and his followers were not in some distant hiding place separated from society. “It’s hard to believe bin Laden was there,” said a nearby neighbor, Adress Ahmed. “We never saw any extraordinary movements.”
The most surprising detail about bin Laden's mansion, however, was the compound's close proximity to the Pakistani Military Academy, which is the country's most elite military training center. The academy is described as the equivalent to the U.S.'s West Point Academy in New York and Britain's Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.
Pakistan's military has already said bin Laden's mansion and its own academy are just 4 km (2.4 miles) apart, while other reports have said the two are as close as 1 km from each other.
Abbottabad also serves as headquarters for the Abbottabad District and the Hazara Division (Hazara being the region of Pakistan the city sits in), meaning the house is even closer to the military cantonment there. Officials for the Abbottabad District all reside in the city, and there is a number of military checkpoints in the area, all making it difficult to fathom the world's most wanted man living in such an area without the knowledge of the Pakistani government.
How Abbottabad Came About
The city of Abbottabad (pronounced AHB-tah-bahd) itself is a lush, green agricultural hub, and serves as a center for neighboring villages. Its name comes from British Major James Abbott, who founded the town and its district in 1853 after he annexed the Punjab area in the then British India. The name is a compound of “Abbott” and “abad,” which means a place of living (place of living for Abbott).
Abbott, who eventually returned to Britain after serving for years as the first Deputy Commissioner for the then Hazara District, was extremely fond of the city and even wrote a poem titled “Abbottabad” which celebrates his experience:
I remember the day when I first came here
And smelt the sweet Abbottabad air
The trees and ground covered with snow
Gave us indeed a brilliant show
To me the place seemed like a dream
And far ran a lonesome stream
The wind hissed as if welcoming us
The pine swayed creating a lot of fuss
And the tiny cuckoo sang it away
A song very melodious and gay
I adored the place from the first sight
And was happy that my coming here was right
And eight good years here passed very soon
And we leave our perhaps on a sunny noon
Oh Abbottabad we are leaving you now
To your natural beauty do I bow
Perhaps your winds sound will never reach my ear
My gift for you is a few sad tears
I bid you farewell with a heavy heart
Never from my mind will your memories thwart
Even if they never knew of the neighboring terrorist that lived amongst them, most residents of Abbottabad will surely be glad to see bin Laden go. Perhaps a poem will be written soon about their experience.