Property records suggest another alias for bin Laden aide

In the flurry of questions in the aftermath of the U.S. operation that killed Osama bin Laden, one line of inquiry has centered on the compound where bin Laden was found. Who in Pakistan knew he was living there? How did the al Qaeda mastermind spend seven years in safety, less than a mile away from the Pakistan army's elite officer academy? Who helped him hide in plain sight?

Now records of the land in Abbottabad on which the compound was built, obtained by the Associated Press, identify the man who bought the property. In a series of methodical transactions beginning in 2004, the buyer is listed as Mohammed Arshad. And the records, combined with neighbors' and U.S. officials' accounts of the men who lived with bin Laden in the compound, suggest that Arshad was probably another alias for the Kuwaiti-born Pakistani courier for bin Laden known to the CIA for years as Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti. In Abbottabad, the man was apparently known as Arshad Khan.

The Associated Press's Narar Khan and Nahal Toosi report:

Property records obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday show that a man named Mohammed Arshad bought the land in Abbottabad where bin Laden's compound was built. He bought the adjoining plots in four stages between 2004 and 2005 and paid $48,000.

Qazi Mahfooz Ul Haq, a doctor, told the AP that he sold a plot of land to Arshad in 2005. He said the buyer was a sturdily built man who had a tuft of hair under his lower lip. He spoke with an accent that sounded like it was from Waziristan, a tribal region close to Afghanistan that is home to many al-Qaida operatives.

"He was a very simple, modest, humble type of man" who was "very interested" in buying the land for "an uncle," the doctor said.

The doctor saw Arshad a few times after he sold him the land, he said. On one of those occasions, Arshad cryptically said, "your land is now very costly"--meaning valuable.

Neighbors of the bin Laden compound said one of the two Pakistani men living in the house who periodically ventured outside went by the name Arshad Khan, and roughly matched the physical description of Mohammed Arshad.

The two names apparently refer to the same man and both names may be fake. But one thing is clear—bin Laden relied on a small, trusted inner circle as lifelines to the outside who provided for his daily needs such as food and medicine and kept his location secret. And it appears they did not betray him.

Did the men who sold the property to Mohammed Arshad have reason to be suspicious about the man from Waziristan and the mysterious "uncle?" Or his willingness to pay more to buy up the increasingly "costly" surrounding land to a total property some eight times larger than others in the area?

The fact that the buyer was seemingly from Waziristan, another Pashto-speaking area, would not have raised suspicion in and of itself, said Columbia University Prof. Hassan Abbas, a Pakistan security expert.

Nevertheless, added the former Pakistan police officer, there were many other reasons the compound should have caught the attention of local authorities years ago.

"This was a house which was previously under surveillance by Pakistani [security services]," Abbas said, referring to the reported 2003 Pakistani raid on the compound to arrest another al Qaeda operative named al-Libi. "Al-Libi was found around this house. That in itself should have ensured that this place was regularly monitored. The second point is that in [January 2011] an Indonesian militant [Umar Patek, accused in the Bali bombing] was arrested in the area."

What's more, the Saudi-born bin Laden lived on the compound with his Yemeni fifth wife and several children, and with the courier and the courier's brother and their families, also with several small children. Given that this is more than 20 residents in all, Abbas said, certainly from time to time people in the town had to be used to fix the electricity or to attend to sick children, and would realize foreigners were living there. The compound also had security cameras on it, he added, something people would have found suspicious in such an area.

"Real estate transactions in [Pakistan] are often not well recorded or regulated, said Gretchen Peters, a former Pakistan-based ABC News correspondent and author of Seeds of Terror, adding that how a purchaser comes up with the cash is not checked by any law.

The fact that Mohammed Arshad "has a nothing name is also significant," Peters adds. "Who knows who he really is. Is he really from Waziristan? I have a friend who notes that all these guys are like Jason Bourne. You can't get anything on them or their family background. They are like ghosts in the system."

Pakistani authorities have detained the women and children who U.S. forces left at the compound, including bin Laden's wife, who was wounded in the raid. They have said the United States cannot have access for questioning, NPR reported.