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Bin Laden's Pakistan hideout lacking in luxury

ABBOTTABAD, Pakistan -- In the end, almost nothing that people thought they knew about Osama bin Laden's life in hiding turned out to be true. There was no special guard of commandos protecting him. He wasn't hidden away in Pakistan's wild tribal...

Bin Laden's compound
Members of a Pakistani family leave the area Thursday after viewing the walled compound of a house, seen in the background, where al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was caught and killed. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)

ABBOTTABAD, Pakistan -- In the end, almost nothing that people thought they knew about Osama bin Laden's life in hiding turned out to be true.

There was no special guard of commandos protecting him.

He wasn't hidden away in Pakistan's wild tribal regions.

He didn't spend his final years as the world's most-wanted fugitive in the company of al-Qaeda followers trained in the many camps he'd sponsored before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Instead, bin Laden's last hideout was a dusty compound less than a mile from Pakistan's premier military academy, a place where he was confined to the house for five years with at least one of his wives and several children. If it weren't deadly serious, it would sound like a bad reality-TV plot.

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Meanwhile, al-Qaeda vowed to keep fighting the United States and avenge the death of Osama bin Laden, which it acknowledged for the first time Friday in an Internet statement apparently designed to convince followers that it will remain vigorous and intact even after its founder's demise.

Al-Qaeda's plots usually are large-scale and involve planning over months or even years. But Western intelligence officials say they are seeing increased chatter about cheap, small-scale attacks -- perhaps by individuals or small extremist groups inspired to take revenge for the killing.

Authorities in the U.S. and Europe chose not to elevate threat levels.

The acknowledgment by al-Qaeda should remove doubt among all but the most die-hard conspiracy theorists that bin Laden is in fact dead.

What precisely went on in the Abbottabad house where bin Laden died early Monday, shot in the chest and head by U.S. Navy SEALs who stormed the house from Black Hawk helicopters, won't be known until Pakistani and U.S. officials finish questioning the women and children who were found, bound with plastic ties, after the U.S. team left.

But a reasonable sketch of the terrorist's final years can be assembled from the bits and pieces of information that have emerged from neighbors and Pakistani security officials.

The bin Laden family lived on the top two floors of the three-story home, the main building in the one-acre compound. It wasn't the luxurious million-dollar hideaway initially portrayed by American officials. The house's paint is peeling, and photos and video taken inside show its furnishings were simple. But for comfort, the 54-year-old bin Laden had the company of his much younger wives and several children.

Neighbors said they never saw bin Laden or members of his family, nor did they notice any visitors to the house. Bin Laden never left the compound, nor perhaps the house itself. One of bin Laden's wives, 29-year-old Amal Ahmed Abdul Fattah, who was a gift to the al-Qaeda leader when she was only 15, told Pakistani interrogators that she never left the upper floors of the house.

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Fattah's devotion to bin Laden is clear. When bin Laden fled Afghanistan in 2001, she fled as well, making it safely to Yemen, her homeland. But at some point she managed to reunite with her husband in Pakistan. During the raid that ended with her husband's death, she rushed an American, who shot her in the leg, according to U.S. officials in Washington.

Fattah, at least two other women and lots of children -- as many as 12 -- were left behind when the Americans flew off with bin Laden's body.

How many of the children were bin Laden's is unclear. At least two were his, but he may have fathered as many as eight.

Pakistani officials say they have bin Laden's adolescent-age daughter in custody. She told them she saw the U.S. troops kill her father.

A Pakistani security official, on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to talk to reporters, told McClatchy Newspapers that an infant, about 6 months old, also was found in the house. Other children were also young, 3 and 9. That means some of them probably were born in the house.

At least one son, Khalid, in his early 20s, also lived with the al-Qaeda chief and was shot dead by the American soldiers -- his body was found in a pool of blood at the foot of the stairs on the ground floor.

It appeared that the household's members tried to be as self-sufficient as possible. There was a large, seemingly well-tended vegetable garden at the back of the house.

The compound also had at least one cow and about 100 chickens in the yard, according to Pakistani security officials.

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The house had no air-conditioning, but it did, unusually for Pakistan, have a central heating system with hot-water radiators. Abbottabad, in the foothills of the Himalayas, is frigid in the winter.

Computer equipment found in the house may have been able to communicate with the outside world, using cell phone connections. The house wasn't wired for phone or Internet.

The food found at the house by Pakistani security officials was basic: dates, nuts, lots of eggs, olive oil and dried meat.

The Pakistani brothers who were bin Laden's keepers would frequently visit the local shops, usually with young children, who were assumed by residents to be their offspring, but beyond greeting people, they were never willing to chat. They'd buy sweets and sodas for the children at Rasheed's corner store, about a minute walk from the house.

Bulkier items came from Sajid general store down the road, and freshly baked naan bread could be purchased next door from a shop with a tandoor oven.

The children from the house never went to school. Instead, they were tutored at home, in Arabic, in a first-floor room that served as a classroom, judging by the whiteboard, markers and textbooks found there by Pakistani security officials.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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