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Image: Osama bin Laden
Anonymous  /  AP file
A 1998 photo shows al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, at center, flanked by his aides and armed bodyguards, in a meeting at an undisclosed location in Afghanistan.
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updated 5/12/2011 10:20:47 PM ET 2011-05-13T02:20:47

For a man on the run, Osama bin Laden seemed to do very little running. Instead, he chose to spend long stretches — possibly years — in one place and often in the company of his family.

As details emerge of bin Laden's era as America's most-wanted man, it appears he was often going in one direction while the American-directed hunt was moving in another.

Pakistani authorities are pulling together a close-up view of bin Laden's final years from sources, such as his three widows, including one who says she never left the upper floors of the walled compound in Abbottabad where bin Laden was killed.

CNN, citing unnamed sources, reported Thursday that U.S. intelligence officers, under the supervision of Pakistani's intelligence service, have interrogated the three widows. The women  were all interviewed together and were "hostile" toward the Americans, a senior Pakistani government official told CNN.

Officials told the network that the interrogation didn't yield much new information, while adding that it was early in the process.

But a far more sweeping narrative has taken shape from reports of Guantanamo Bay interrogations posted by WikiLeaks in late April just before the American raid on bin Laden's compound.

These documents — in addition to interviews by The Associated Press — indicate bin Laden relied on Afghan allies for years after the Sept. 11 attacks and possibly spent relatively limited time in Pakistan's rugged tribal areas, which had been the much-discussed focus of U.S. intelligence and military resources in the manhunt.

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It also suggests that bin Laden — either by design or chance — could have taken advantage of shortcomings in America's ability to gather timely leads on his movements or get credible sources within the patchwork of tribes and militia factions in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In perhaps the most striking dead-end chase, U.S. officials and others strongly believed bin Laden slipped across the border in Pakistan after dodging capture from an assault on Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan in November 2001. But he was still in Afghanistan and galloping away on horseback in the opposite direction toward the northeastern Kunar province, according to bin Laden's aide Awar Gul, who was arrested in December 2001 and eventually sent to Guantanamo.

But according to the documents released by WikiLeaks, Gul gave the information to interrogators from 2002 to 2006 — apparently too late to produce any active leads.

It also was assumed bin Laden traveled light, accompanied by a few guards who were most likely Arabs. But it turns out he kept close to his family — or at least part of it — and his most-trusted courier was a Kuwaiti-born Pakistani who went by the nom de guerre Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, according to U.S. documents and investigators.

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The discrepancies between the Western assumptions and the apparent details on bin Laden's movements go back to the Sept. 11 attacks.

Not underground
Bin Laden didn't go underground, as widely believed by intelligence agencies. He stayed in Kandahar, mingled with his Arab fighters and met Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, according to an AP interview with a former Taliban intelligence chief.

The official, Mullah Mohammed Khaksar, said bin Laden left Kandahar for the capital Kabul after the start of U.S.-led attacks to oust the Taliban on Oct. 7, 2001. Bin Laden stayed in Kabul until Nov. 13 when the Taliban fled and the U.S.-allied Northern Alliance swept into the city, Khaksar told the AP.

Video: Journals show bin Laden 'fully engaged' to repeat 9/11 (on this page)

The battle then moved to the Tora Bora outpost, where bin Laden was thought to have taken refuge.

The warren of caves that run through the Tora Bora mountains was familiar to bin Laden, who had used them as cover while taking part in the U.S.-backed fight against the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.

Help in Tora Bora
As the Americans blasted Tora Bora with bunker-busting bombs, bin Laden escaped with the help of lieutenants for a local warlord, Maulvi Yunus Khalis, who had fought with bin Laden against the Red Army, according to officials including Michael Scheuer, former CIA point man in the hunt for the al-Qaida chief.

In some ways, bin Laden's Tora Bora breakaway was an inside job, Scheuer told the AP. The warlord's aides who helped bin Laden escape also were working for coalition forces at the time.

According to Gul's interrogation report, bin Laden rested at Gul's home in Jalalabad — about 25 miles northeast of Tora Bora — after evading U.S.-led forces on the mountain. He was accompanied by his No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri, the report says.

Slideshow: After the raid: Inside bin Laden's compound (on this page)

"According to an Afghan government official UBL (Osama bin Laden) and al-Zawahri stayed at the detainee's (Gul's) to rest while escaping from hostilities against the U.S. and coalition forces in Tora Bora," the interrogation documents said.

The interrogation summary also says then bin Laden set off on horseback — not toward Pakistan, but northeast toward Kunar. The almost inaccessible area, close to the Pakistani border, was a stronghold of pro-Taliban forces and other militias.

Gul also accompanied bin Laden to Kunar, where they met Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and his military chief Kashmir Khan, who "provided protection for the group before they continued to an unknown location at the request of Hekmatyar," the interrogation report said.

Small units of U.S. special forces already had a few outposts in the Kunar region during the Tora Bora battle. But slipping past the few American soldiers would have been easy.

In years to come, the U.S. hunt for bin Laden expanded in the Kunar border zone. In 2003, U.S. soldiers attacked the military chief Khan's hideouts, slightly wounding him. In 2005, a U.S. special forces Chinook helicopter was shot down in Kunar, killing all 16 personnel on board.

Bin Laden may have been long gone at the time.

According to the Guantanamo documents, bin Laden passed through Kunar en route to Pakistan's semiautonomous tribal belt. But the destination was not the militant heartland of Waziristan. The reports said bin Laden headed for a more tranquil place called Khwar, which is near Pakistan's scenic resort area of Swat and barely 42 miles (70 kilometers) from Abbottabad.

Unconfirmed sightings
It was about this time, in early 2003, that unconfirmed reports surfaced of bin Laden sightings in Pakistan's far-northern Chitral area amid the highest range in the Hindu Kush mountains. It would be familiar territory for bin Laden. During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, Chitral was a jumping off point for American-backed guerrilla fighters that included bin Laden.

It's still unclear when bin Laden arrived in Abbottabad, a well-kept hill station that has Pakistan's equivalent of West Point.

The compound where he killed was built in 2005. One of bin Laden's wives told Pakistani investigators that she moved to the home in 2006 and never left the top floors of the three-story compound.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Onslaught of info paints clear portrait of bin Laden

  1. Closed captioning of: Onslaught of info paints clear portrait of bin Laden

    >>> now we turn overseas. the latest news resulting from the death of osama bin ladin . we seem to be learning more about him in the 11 days since his death at the hands of u.s. navy s.e.a.l.s than we've been able to learn in the past ten years. thanks to all that stuff the s.e.a.l.s were able to grab from his house on their way out, including a handwritten notebook. nbc 's peter alexander in islamabad again for us tonight. peter, good evening.

    >> reporter: brian, good evening to you. nbc news has learned in that handwritten notebook, osama bin ladin was focused on what one u.s. official calls spectacular attacks. he specifically mentioned four major u.s. cities as potential al qaeda targets. new york, washington, chicago and los angeles . senior u.s. military and intelligence officials tell nbc news from inside his hideout, bin ladin was fully engaged to carry out other 9/11 style attacks. describing him as a micro manager and meticulous note taker. he used his compound as a command and control center for al qaeda . compiling his thoughts and plans for new attacks in multiple documents including a handwritten 10-page notebook.

    >> he mentions the big cities , he mentions certain important dates, for example, the ten-year anniversary of 9/11 which is coming up. he mentions transportation, aviation and rail.

    >> reporter: this wave of intelligence is emerging through a government campaign of briefings and orchestrated leaks. he was preoccupied with attacking the united states over all other targets. a fixation that led to friction with followers. nbc news has learned the president and top u.s. military officials were listed as potential targets. but the vice president was said to be less of a target. why the information onslaught?

    >> they're sending a message to members of al qaeda that the americans may have information about you, they may have information about your whereabouts, about your plans, about your intentions, and it causes them to question what they're going to do.

    >> reporter: also seized in the raid, personal correspondence between bin ladin and senior al qaeda leaders. he spoke of where to attack, what times to attack, and which of his officers would be right for specific jobs. the navy s.e.a.l.s focused primarily on bin ladin 's office and left behind detailed logs of his and al qaeda 's activities and movements. logs now in the possession of pakistani authorities who have not yet agreed to share them. and tonight the associated press is reporting that bin ladin was actually a prolific e-mail writer, even though his compound had no internet access . through a complex system of thumb drives and couriers he was able to get his message out for years, while avoiding detection.

    >> peter alexander on the case in islamabad again tonight. peter, thanks.

Photos: The compound

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  1. Pakistani boys while demolition takes place on the compound where Osama bin Laden was slain in 2011 in the northwestern town of Abbottabad on Feb. 26, 2012.

    More photos from Abbottabad one year after Osama bin Laden (Aamir Qureshi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. An aerial view shows the residential area of Abbottabad, Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden was found and killed by U.S. commandos. (Asif Hassan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A general view of the town of Abbottabad, May 6. Bin Laden was living in a large house close to a military academy in this garrison town, a two-and-a-half hour-drive from the capital, Islamabad. (Khaqan Khawer / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Supporters of Pakistani religious party Jamaat-e-Islami rally to condemn the killing of bin Laden, in Abbottabad on May 6. (Aqeel Ahmed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A Pakistani woman photographs her daughter on May , at a gate of the compound where bin Laden was caught and killed. (Aqeel Ahmed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. School girls pass by armed Pakistani policemen guarding the sealed entrance to the compound in Abbottabad, May 5, in which bin Laden had been living. (MD Nadeem / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Part of a damaged helicopter rests in the compound after U.S. Navy SEAL commandos killed bin Laden, May 2, in a photo made available on May 4. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Boys herd sheep past the compound where U.S. Navy SEAL commandos killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad May 5. (Akhtar Soomro / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Pakistani security officials arrive at the Osama bin Laden compound in Abbottabad on Wednesday, May 4. (Aamir Qureshi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Local residents gather outside a burned section of bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad. (Aamir Qureshi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A Pakistani police officer gestures at a checkpoint along a road leading to a house where bin Laden was captured and killed in Abbottabad. Area residents were still confused and suspicious about bin Laden's death, which took place before dawn on Monday. (Anjum Naveed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Pakistani children look out from a high vantage point at bin Laden's compound on Tuesday, May 3. (Aqeel Ahmed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Pakistan army troops remove canvas screens from outside the compound's house. (Anjum Naveed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Neighbors and news media gather around the compound, right, after authorities ease security around the property. (Aqeel Ahmed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. A satellite image, taken June 15, 2005, shows the Abbottabad compound, center, where bin Laden was killed in on Monday. (DigitalGlobe via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. A Pakistani soldier secures the compound. (T. Mughal / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. The compound is seen in flames after it was attacked early May 2 in this still image taken from cellphone video footage. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Part of a damaged U.S. MH-60 helicopter lies the compound. The helicopter was destroyed by U.S. forces after a mechanical failure left it unable to take off. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A still image from video obtained by ABC News shows blood stains in the interior of the house where bin Laden was killed. (ABC News via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Aerial views released by the Department of Defense show the area in Abbottabad in 2004, left, before the house was built, and in 2011, right. (Department of Defense via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. A graphic released by the Department of Defense shows the compound where bin Laden was killed. (Department of Defense via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Pakistani soldiers and police officers patrol near the house, background, where bin Laden had lived. (Anjum Naveed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. The hideout of bin Laden is seen the day after his death. (Farooq Naeem / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Students look toward the compound from a nearby religious school in Abbottabad. (Faisal Mahmood / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Pakistani security officials survey the walls of the compound where bin Laden was killed. The outer walls were between 10 and 18 feet high. (MD Nadeem / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Pakistani soldiers stand guard near the compound May 2. (Anjum Naveed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Boys collect pieces of metal from a wheat field outside bin Laden's house, seen in the background, on May 3. People showed off small parts of what appeared to be a U.S. helicopter that the U.S. says malfunctioned and was blown up by the American team as it retreated. (Anjum Naveed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Pakistani security officials stand guard at the main entrance to the compound on May 3. (MD Nadeem / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. An image from video seized from the walled compound of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, and released by the U.S. Department of Defense, shows Osama bin Laden watching TV. He is said to have spent his last weeks in a house divided, amid wives riven by suspicions. On the top floor, sharing his bedroom, was his youngest wife and favorite. The trouble came when his eldest wife showed up and moved into the bedroom on the floor below. (Department of Defense via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image:
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    Above: Slideshow (29) After the raid: Inside bin Laden's compound - The compound
  2. Image:
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    Slideshow (81) After the raid: Inside bin Laden's compound - World reaction
  3. Image:
    Timothy A. Clary / AFP - Getty Images
    Slideshow (81) World reacts to death of Osama bin Laden - World reaction
  4. Image:
    Aamir Qureshi / AFP - Getty Images
    Slideshow (29) World reacts to death of Osama bin Laden - The compound

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