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Bin Laden neighbors were suspicious

ABBOTTABAD, Pakistan (AP) — A day after U.S. commandos killed the al-Qaida leader following a 10-year manhunt, new details emerged Tuesday from Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency and bin Laden’s neighbors in Abbottabad.

Residents said they sensed something was odd about the walled three-story house, even though bin Laden and his family rarely ventured outside and most neighbors were not aware that foreigners were living there.

“That house was obviously a suspicious one,” said Jahangir Khan, who was buying a newspaper in Abbottabad. “Either it was a complete failure of our intelligence agencies or they were involved in this affair.”

Neighbors said two men would routinely emerge from the compound to run errands or occasionally attend a neighborhood gathering, such as a funeral. Both men were tall, fair skinned and bearded.

“People were skeptical in this neighborhood about this place and these guys,” said Mashood Khan, a 45-year-old farmer. “They used to gossip, say they were smugglers or drug dealers. People would complain that even with such a big house they didn’t invite the poor or distribute charity.”

U.S. officials have suggested Pakistani officials may have known where bin Laden was living and members of Congress have seized on those suspicions to call for the U.S. to consider cutting billions of aid to Pakistan if it turns out to be true.

Within Pakistan, however criticism has been focused on the U.S. breaching the country’s sovereignty. The Obama administration has said it did not inform the Pakistanis in advance of the operation against bin Laden, for fear they would tip off the targets.

A strongly worded Pakistani government statement warned the U.S. not to launch similar operations in the future. It rejected suggestions that officials knew where bin Laden was.

Still, there were other revelations that pointed to prior knowledge that the compound was linked to al-Qaida.

Pakistani intelligence agencies hunting for a top al-Qaida operative raided the house in 2003, according to a senior officer, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with the spy agency’s policy.

The house was just being built at the time of the raid by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, and Abu Faraj al-Libi, al-Qaida’s No. 3, was not there, said the officer.

U.S. officials have said al-Libi once lived in the house and that information from him played a role in tracking the al-Qaida chief down. Al-Libi was arrested by Pakistani police after a shootout in 2005 and he was later handed over to U.S. authorities.

A Pakistani officer insisted the ISI would have captured bin Laden if it had known he was there, and pushed back at international criticism of the agency.

“Look at our track record given the issues we have faced, the lack of funds. We have killed or captured hundreds” of extremists, said the officer. “All of a sudden one failure makes us incompetent and 10 years of effort is overlooked.”

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