After last weekend’s targeted attack on al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in his suburban Abbottabad compound, past years’ rumors that bin Laden was living in caves in the tribal wilds of Afghanistan have dissolved. Now that it’s been established that bin Laden could have been hiding in plain sight in Pakistan since 2005 at least, stories of past bin Laden sightings sound more plausible.
Meg Laughlin (now a reporter for the St. Petersburg Times) wrote that when she was in Islamabad in February 2002, reporting for The Miami Herald, she saw something she would never forget: Osama bin Laden.
On a quick run to the grocery store with photographer Carl Juste and a driver/translator, Juste pointed out the window and said, “Look! There’s Osama bin Laden!” Laughlin wrote in a first-person account of the incident published Tuesday in the St. Petersburg Times.
“We couldn’t believe our eyes,” she wrote. “There, in front of us was the most wanted man in the world, the face on countless posters offering a reward of $25 million for information on his whereabouts. There was no mistaking him. Towering over the men with him, he was lanky with olive skin and that scraggly long beard, those sad brown eyes and that splayed nose.
The three of us began screaming, ‘It’s Osama bin Laden! Osama bin Laden!'”
The group hadn’t brought a camera, and cars behind them began honking as they gaped, so they moved on. They called their editor in Florida, who reminded them that bin Laden was supposed to be in tribal lands between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and that it had probably just been a trick of the light.
Now, Laughlin wrote, it seems a lot more plausible that Osama bin Laden was hiding in plain sight, outside a market with posters of his face on the windows.