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Bin Laden mansion drew local suspicion for years

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Also unclear was why bin Laden chose Abbottabad, though at least two other top al-Qaida leaders have sheltered in this town. The bustling streets are dotted with buildings left over from British colonial days. These days it attracts some tourists, but is known mostly as a garrison town wealthier than many others in Pakistan.

Bin Laden found it safe enough to stay for up to six years, according to U.S. officials, a stunning length of time to remain in one place right under the noses of a U.S.-funded army that had ostensibly been trying to track him down. Most intelligence assessments believed him to be along the Afghan-Pakistan border, perhaps in a cave.

Construction of the three-story house began about seven years ago, locals said. People initially were curious about the heavily fortified compound — which had walls as high as 18 feet topped with barbed wire — but over time they just grew to believe the family inside was deeply religious and conservative.

The Pakistani government also pushed back at suggestions that security forces were sheltering bin Laden or failed to spot suspicious signs.

"It needs to be appreciated that many houses (in the northwest) have high boundary walls, in line with their culture of privacy and security," the government said. "Houses with such layout and structural details are not a rarity."

The house has been described as a mansion, even a luxury one, but from the outside it is nothing special. Bin Laden may have well have been able to take in a view of the hills from secluded spots in the garden, though.

The walls are stained with mold, trees are in the garden and the windows are hidden. U.S. officials said the house had no Internet or phone connection to reduce the risk of electronic surveillance. They also said residents burned their trash to avoid collection.

Those who live nearby said the people in bin Laden's compound rarely strayed outside. Most were unaware that foreigners — bin Laden and his family are Arabs — were living there.

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