Pakistani security forces on Saturday began demolishing the compound where Osama bin Laden was killed in a covert U.S. raid last May in the garrison town of Abbottabad, police and witnesses said.
“Two bulldozers are engaged, the demolition work is in progress, it is being done by security forces, including troops,” a police official on the spot told AFP by telephone on condition of anonymity.
A senior administration official said the third floor of the three-storey building including bin Laden’s room had been pulled down and work was underway to remove the structure. “We hope it will be over by tomorrow (Sunday) morning,” he added.
The compound where bin Laden lived for several years had been under the control of the security forces since the al-Qaeda leader was killed by U.S. Navy SEALs in a covert helicopter operation without Islamabad’s knowledge.
“I am on security duty, I can see dust is coming out of the building,” the official said.
Police have been deployed at the outer cordon and army troops are around the compound, manning the inner cordon, he said.
“We have received orders to be here,” another police officer, Sameen Jan, said, confirming that the “compound is being demolished.”
Witnesses said troops blocked access to the compound, brought heavy machinery and barred journalists from taking pictures or coming close to the site.
Bin Laden lived in the compound with his three wives and nine children including his grandchildren.
The Americans buried the al-Qaeda leader at sea, determined no grave should become a memorial to mastermind of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, but his home had become an object of fascination.
The compound attracted hundreds of visitors daily soon after bin Laden’s death and officials feared his final hiding place could become a shrine or a tourist spot unless the military destroyed it.
Pakistani troops fighting Taliban and al-Qaeda affiliates in the tribal belt routinely destroy the homes of militants.
That the compound was less than two kilometers (a mile) from the Pakistan Military Academy – the country’s equivalent of West Point and Sandhurst – had made it even less likely that the armed forces would want to keep the villa intact as a reminder of their humiliation.
The bin Laden raid exposed Pakistan’s powerful military to charges of complicity or incompetence after it emerged that the world’s most wanted man had lived on the doorstep of its premier academy for years.
Pakistani-U.S. ties drastically deteriorated over the raid and relations fell to their lowest ebb over a November NATO air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at a post near the Afghan border.
Islamabad has set up a judicial commission to investigate how bin Laden lived in Pakistan undetected for years.
On the night of the raid, helicopters secretly delivered the team of US Navy SEALs to the residence, which had high walls covered with barbed wire.
They moved up through the building before finding and killing bin Laden on the top floor.
Around 40 minutes after the raid began, the team left with bin Laden’s body and a huge cache of documents, mostly on computer hard drives, flash drives and disks. Five people, including the al-Qaeda chief, were shot dead.