Osama Bin Laden's Abbottabad house 'was al-Qaeda hub'

BBC Security Correspondent Frank Gardner on the significance of the new material

Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden was in active control of the terror network from his compound in northern Pakistan, US intelligence services now believe.

Reversing assessments that Bin Laden lived a nomadic existence, the US now says his Abbottabad house was a command and control centre.

Following the raid that killed him, the US has released five videos of Bin Laden watching TV and giving speeches.

Officials say he was deeply involved in al-Qaeda decision-making.

"This compound in Abbottabad was an active command and control centre for al-Qaeda's top leader and it's clear [...] that he was not just a strategic thinker for the group," an official who spoke on condition of anonymity told reporters at a Pentagon briefing.

"He was active in operational planning and in driving tactical decisions," the official said.

Osama Bin Laden (TV still) In one video, Bin Laden is seen watching an item about himself on television

The five tapes, their sound removed by the Pentagon, show Bin Laden watching a report about himself on television, and, in several clips, practising video addresses.

One of the videos released was a "complete, yet unreleased" tape he described as "a message to the American people," the intelligence official said.

It was believed to have been produced between early October and the beginning of November 2010.

Officials say that the changing colour of Bin Laden's beard - dyed black in the addresses but grey when filmed watching himself on television - suggests he was someone who "jealously guarded" his image.

The material found at the compound - which is reported to include digitial, audio and video files, as well as printed material, computer equipment, recording devices and hand-written documents - has been described by officials as "the single largest collection of senior terrorist materials ever".

Personal letters between Bin Laden and others are also said to be among the documents recovered.

Analysis

Of the five clips released by the Pentagon, and said by them to have been seized from Bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, only one is truly remarkable. It appears to show an aged and frail Bin Laden squatting on the floor of a very basic room with jerry-rigged electrical wiring, watching television.

There is nothing glamorous about his surroundings, which resemble an urban squat. Yet a senior but unnamed US intelligence official has told journalists in Washington they now believe the compound raided by US Navy Seals last Monday was an al-Qaeda command and control centre.

If they're right then the idea of Bin Laden being too busy evading capture to get involved in operations all this time will turn out to be badly wrong.

But Noman Benotman, who knew Bin Laden personally up til 2000, tells me this is wrong, that Bin Laden was a spiritual leader but in no way a military commander.

CIA Director Leon Panetta said in a statement that the material seized "only further confirms how important it was to go after Bin Laden".

In the first video, Bin Laden is shown wearing a white skullcap and shirt and a golden robe. He speaks to the camera in the style of previous video addresses by the al-Qaeda leader.

The BBC's Jonny Dymond, in Washington, says that these are the first such films to emerge since al-Qaeda released a video address from Bin Laden in 2007.

In another of the videos, Bin Laden is shown watching a programme about himself on Arabic language television.

He is shown sitting on the floor wrapped in what looks like a blanket or a coat, holding a remote control.

In one scene, he watches a programme showing an image of himself superimposed on a picture of the World Trade Center in flames after it was hit by hijacked planes.

There is nothing in the videos to place Bin Laden in the compound where he was killed.

Map of Abbottabad
Diagram of the compound

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