Death threats for Osama compound demolition man [Dawn, May 2, 2012]
ABBOTTABAD: Shakeel Ahmad Yusufzai cuts a defiant figure in the genteel Pakistani town of Abbottabad. He is the man who demolished Osama bin Laden’s house and despite Taliban death threats, says he is proud of what he did.
Yusufzai paid the government around 400,000 rupees ($4,500) for the contract to demolish the compound where the al Qaeda chief hid for around six years and to salvage building materials from it.
The high-walled three-storey house was flattened in February and now Yusufzai gives away bricks to curious souvenir-hunters from all over Pakistan.
A year after the US special forces raid which found the world’s most wanted man living on the doorstep of the country’s elite military academy, Pakistan is keen to turn the page on one of the most humiliating episodes in its history.
The 47-year-old Yusufzai, tall, mustachioed and confident, told AFP the Pakistani Taliban had sent him threatening letters, but he was pleased to have erased some of the physical traces of his country’s shame.
“I am not scared at all but sometimes I think I have put my family in danger,” said Yusufzai, who has a seven-year-old daughter.
“My wife feels scared and whenever I come home late she thinks that either I have been killed or kidnapped.
“But I believe that whatever I did was in the national interest. We conveyed a message to the world by demolishing this compound that we are against terrorism, which harmed our province and the country.”
Yusufzai hoped to make a profit on material recovered from the site but said he lost money despite taking away 12 tonnes of scrap metal from the buildings.
Conspiracy theories about what “really” happened to bin Laden are rife in Pakistan, and many in Abbottabad are not convinced he was ever there. Even Yusufzai is prepared to accept the doubts.
“I am not sure whether bin Laden actually lived there but my feeling after seeing the building and its design was that it might have hosted him,” he said.
Six dumper trucks were needed to clear the building scrap from the bin Laden house, Yusufzai said, and now the salvageable material is held in a storeroom in a girls’ hostel at a local college.
Two bathtubs were stacked in the storeroom along with dozens of bricks, floor tiles, water pipes and cables. An Arab-style black and white scarf lay on the floor.
Yusufzai said he would donate an orange tree and an olive tree he took from the compound to the college.
Twelve months ago the air of Abbottabad rang with the deafening sound of gunfire and explosions as two Black Hawk helicopters full of US Navy SEALs stormed the house in the dead of night.
Now there is birdsong at the site and the sound of boys playing cricket.
A smooth patch of concrete, once part of the foundations of the buildings which hid bin Laden, his three wives and their 10 children, now makes a perfect pitch for young cricketers.
The boys say they know little about the 9/11 mastermind who lived there, but they are clear about what should happen to the site.
“Everybody in this area wants this place to become a playground. We like playing cricket here and we want the government to build a playground,” said 12-year-old Jamaluddin.