Abbottabad (Pakistan): In his last days, Osama bin Laden was not surrounded by a circle of heavily armed Arab bodyguards or mujahedeen who had fought with him in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union. Rather, he relied on two Pakistanis, one of whom, according to American officials, was his most trusted courier. Both men died with him in the American raid on their compound.
They were known here as Arshad Khan and Tareq Khan, although one police official said that Arshad was not the man's real name and that he carried a fake identity card. Although American officials have said they were brothers, a neighbor who gave his name only as Qassim said the men were cousins. Qassim lives directly opposite the compound that American commandos stormed just after midnight Monday, and his father worked as a watchman there for several years.
The men were Pashtuns from Charsadda, in the northwest frontier region close to Afghanistan, and moved to Abbottabad seven years ago. It remains unclear how they came to know Bin Laden and whether the men were known to the Pakistani military or intelligence services.
On Tuesday the police removed the cordon around the area where they lived in Bilal Town, a middle-class neighborhood on the edge of this quiet country town, allowing journalists up to the compound.
No one here seemed to have any idea that an important fugitive was living behind the high walls, nor did they know well the two Pakistanis who owned the house. But they said the men were model neighbors who never caused trouble, greeted people courteously on the street and strolled with their children in the fields around their house.
Both men were in their 30s and married, with preschool-age children; Arshad with three and Tareq with four, according to the matriarch of a family living on an alley 100 yards north of the compound. She declined to give her name because she did not want to be identified in a newspaper.
Nine children ages 2 to 12 and three women, one of whom was Arab, were taken from the compound by the Pakistani military after the raid to the military hospital in town, said security officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity according to protocol. The numbers indicated that one woman and two children in the group were part of Bin Laden's family. A security official said a daughter of Bin Laden was critically wounded and was being cared for at the hospital; American officials said that Bin Laden's wife was wounded.
"They are all in safe hands and being looked after in accordance with law," the Pakistani Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday. "Some of them needing medical care are under treatment in the best possible facilities. As per policy, they will be handed over to their countries of origin," the statement said.
The Khans were wealthy compared with the shopkeepers, farm laborers and Afghan refugees who live around them. They were generous, too, paying 200 rupees (about $2.40) -- double the daily wage -- to laborers who worked on the house, and gave a donation toward the construction of the neighborhood mosque, said Naheed Abassi, 21, a driver and farm laborer who said he worked on the construction of the house.
The men drove themselves and, once the house was built, did not employ a gate watchman, often the employee who is the greatest source of information about families. They had two cars, a red S.U.V. and a white Suzuki jeep, neighbors said.
Neighbors said the men gave different explanations for their comparative wealth, once saying they had a hotel in Dubai managed by their uncle who sent them money, or that they worked in the money-changing business.
Asked if they had fought in the jihad in Afghanistan, Mr. Abassi, the laborer, grimaced. "It was never very clear," he said. "The only time they ever interacted with us was when they brought the children out to play," he said. "They never told us why they came here."
The home stands out from the surrounding houses because of its high gray cement walls topped with barbed wire, but otherwise it is an unremarkable three-story white house, with a closed-in terrace and a tall annex at the back of the yard that blocked the view from neighboring houses.
The men bought the land and built the house seven years ago, Mr. Abassi said, adding that he knew the year because his family built their house at the same time. A security official said the house was built in 2004, just beyond the boundaries of the section of town where Kakul Military Academy is located.
The owners kept cows and buffalo in an adjoining yard on the south side of the compound, where they had a deep well and a small guard house. That is where one of the three helicopters used in the American assault was abandoned and set on fire. On the north side of the house several poplar trees formed a small garden.
Women living nearby said the women of the Khans' house lived in complete purdah, or separation from men, and did not socialize or visit other homes. They never went outside the compound except by car, accompanied by their husbands and fully veiled. Beside the two wives of the owners, an aunt who lived with them would go out in the car with them, some of the women said.
The family never invited anyone into their home and never visited other people's homes, although they did attend prayers in the mosque and funerals in the neighborhood, neighbors said.
When children playing in the fields let a ball fly into the compound by mistake, the owners never let them retrieve it but gave them 50 rupees to buy a new one, said one of the neighbors, a woman with a small boy on her hip who gave her name only as Bibi. When the children began to throw balls into the compound on purpose to get more money, the owners kept paying, she said, laughing.