- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 4, 2011

ABBOTTABAD, Pakistan | The Pakistani who owned the compound that was Osama bin Laden’s final hideaway meticulously bought up adjoining plots of land over two years and once cryptically told a seller that the property he bought for “an uncle” had become very valuable.

The new information that emerged Wednesday provided a new glimpse of one of two key figures who sheltered bin Laden in his last years and whose identities remain one of the biggest mysteries surrounding the al Qaeda chief.

At the same time, Pakistan stepped up its attempt to convince the world that it didn’t know where bin Laden was. They maintain that the al Qaeda leader’s ability to hide in Abbottabad, an army town just a two-hour drive from the capital, was the result of government oversight, not double dealing.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said Wednesday that anyone who claimed his country hid bin Laden was “color blind.”

During a visit to Paris, Mr. Gilani said that Pakistan shared intelligence with numerous countries in the fight against terrorism and had “excellent cooperation” with the United States. He said that “if we have failed, it means everybody failed,” and that an investigation would be ordered.

Many countries have expressed disbelief that bin Laden could have holed up under the Pakistani army’s nose, and some U.S. congressmen have said the U.S. should consider cutting billions of dollars in aid to the country if it turns out Pakistan knew of bin Laden’s whereabouts.

U.S. officials have long criticized Pakistan, a key but difficult ally, for failing to target Islamist militants on its territory.

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 in 2004 and 2005 and paid $48,000.

Qazi Mahfooz Ul Haq, a doctor, told the AP that he sold a plot of land to Mr. 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 Qaeda 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 Mr. Arshad a few times after he sold him the land, he said. On one of those occasions, Mr. Arshad cryptically said, “your land is now very costly” - meaning valuable.

Mr. Arshad bought two other plots used for the compound in a less transparent transaction in November 2004, according to a review of the property records.

Raja Imtiaz Ahmed, who previously owned the two plots, said he sold them to a middleman who may have then passed them on to Mr. Arshad. He could not recall the middleman’s name and was looking for records that would reveal it.

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.