ABBOTTABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan was more than halfway done Sunday demolishing the three-story compound where Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. commandos last May, erasing a concrete reminder of a painful and embarrassing chapter in the country’s history.
Rings of police kept spectators and journalists away from the compound, which the government began tearing down Saturday night under powerful floodlights without providing prior notice. Three mechanized backhoes ripped into the building, according to an Associated Press reporter who was able to get close enough to see the work.
Pakistan was outraged by the covert American raid in the northwestern town of Abbottabad because it was not told about it beforehand — a decision the U.S. explained was driven by concerns that someone in the government might tip off bin Laden.
The terror leader’s death was cheered across the globe, but many Pakistanis were angry that the U.S. violated its territory and that its troops were powerless to stop American soldiers from attacking a compound located next to the country’s elite military academy.
The backhoes — heavy machines with strong crane-like digging arms — have torn down the tall boundary walls around bin Laden’s compound and have destroyed more than half of the main building, where the al-Qaida chief lived for years with his wives and children.
Army soldiers who were guarding the compound Saturday night handed authority over to the police in the morning and left. Work continued Sunday morning but paused around midday so that large trucks could carry away the debris.
Pakistani officials have declined to say why they decided to begin demolition.
Residents of the normally sleepy town of Abbottabad were divided on what the government should do with the compound in the aftermath of the raid. Some thought it should be destroyed, but others believed it should be turned into a tourist attraction to help the town earn money. There was always the danger, however, that it could also draw al-Qaida supporters.
American officials said they buried bin Laden’s body at sea to avoid giving his followers a burial place that could become a makeshift shrine.
Many U.S. officials expressed disbelief that bin Laden could have lived in Abbottabad for around six years without the Pakistani government knowing. But the U.S. has not found any evidence that senior Pakistani officials knew of the al-Qaida chief’s whereabouts.
The U.S. Navy SEALs who attacked bin Laden’s compound on May 2 infiltrated by helicopter from neighboring Afghanistan. The raid, which lasted around 40 minutes, was a serious blow to the already troubled U.S.-Pakistan relationship.
Pakistan responded by kicking out more than 100 U.S. troops training Pakistanis in counterterrorism operations and reduced the level of intelligence cooperation.
Some members of Congress called on the U.S. to cut of the billions of dollars of military and civilian aid to Pakistan unless Islamabad explained bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad and boosted cooperation on the Afghan war. The aid has continued, although at a somewhat lower level.