ABBOTTABAD, Pakistan – Pakistan on Saturday began demolishing the three-story compound where Usama bin Laden lived for years and was killed by U.S. commandos last May, eliminating a concrete reminder of the painful and embarrassing chapter in the country's history.
Pakistan was outraged by the covert American raid because it was not told about it beforehand.
The country's powerful military faced rare domestic criticism because it was not able to stop U.S. troops from infiltrating the country by helicopter from Afghanistan under the cover of darkness. The compound was located next to Pakistan's equivalent of West Point, the elite U.S. military academy.
Three mechanized backhoes began demolishing the compound in the northwest town of Abbottabad after sunset on Saturday, said two local residents, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were afraid of being harassed by the government.
Authorities set up floodlights so they could work after dark, the residents said.
The demolition team conducted its work under heavy security. A large team of police set up an outer cordon around the compound to keep spectators away, said an Associated Press reporter who managed to get close enough to see the demolition work under way. A ring of army soldiers set up an inner cordon and warmed themselves against the winter chill by lighting a bonfire.
The backhoes broke through tall outer boundary walls that ringed a courtyard where one of the U.S. helicopters crashed during the operation to kill the Al Qaeda chief. They then began to tear down the compound itself.
A Pakistani intelligence official confirmed that the demolition was in progress but declined to say why the government chose to do it. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
Residents of the normally sleepy town of Abbottabad were divided on what the government should do with the compound in the aftermath of the raid. Some thought it should be destroyed, but others believed it should be turned into a tourist attraction to help the town earn money. There was always the danger, however, that it could also draw Al Qaeda supporters.
American officials said they buried bin Laden's body at sea to avoid giving his followers a burial place that could become a makeshift shrine.
Many U.S. officials expressed disbelief that bin Laden could have lived in Abbottabad for around six years without the Pakistani government knowing. But the U.S. has not found any evidence that senior Pakistani officials knew the Al Qaeda chief's whereabouts.
The U.S. did not give Pakistan advance warning of the raid, which lasted about 40 minutes, because it was worried someone in the country's military or shadowy intelligence agency would tip off bin Laden.
The operation was a serious blow to the already troubled U.S.-Pakistan relationship. Pakistan responded to the raid by kicking out more than 100 U.S. troops training Pakistanis in counter-terrorism operations and reduced the level of intelligence cooperation.