Pakistani security forces have begun demolishing the compound where al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed in a covert US raid in May, police and witnesses said.
The operation began after dark on Saturday in the northwestern garrison town of Abbottabad.
“Two bulldozers are engaged, the demolition work is in progress. It is being done by security forces, including troops,” a police official at the scene told the AFP news agency.
A senior administration official said the third floor of the three-storey building, which includes bin Laden’s room, had been pulled down and work was under way to remove the structure.
“We hope it will be over by [Sunday] morning,” he said.
Karim Khan, a senior police official in the town, told Reuters that the demolition was a joint operation of the local administration and security forces.
Residents said the compound was surrounded by a heavy contingent of troops and at least five construction cranes.
“They installed heavy lights around the building and started first demolishing the boundary walls. The area was completely cordoned off and there was no media in the area,” Momin Khan, a local resident, said.
Bin Laden lived in the compound with his three wives and nine children including his grandchildren.
The compound where bin Laden lived for several years had been under the control of the security forces since the al-Qaeda leader was killed by US Navy SEALs in a helicopter operation launched without Islamabad’s knowledge.
The Americans buried the al-Qaeda leader at sea, determined no grave should become a memorial, but his home had become an object of fascination.
The compound attracted hundreds of visitors daily soon after bin Laden’s death and officials feared his final hiding place could become a shrine or a tourist spot unless the military destroyed it.
Pakistani troops fighting against Taliban and al-Qaeda affiliates in the tribal belt routinely destroy the homes of suspected fighters.
That the compound was less than two kilometres from the Pakistan Military Academy had made it even less likely that the armed forces would want to keep the villa intact as a reminder of their humiliation.
The bin Laden raid exposed Pakistan’s powerful military to charges of complicity or incompetence after it emerged that the world’s most wanted man had lived on the doorstep of its premier military academy for years.
Pakistani-US ties drastically deteriorated over the raid and relations fell to their lowest ebb over a November NATO air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at a post near the Afghan border.
Islamabad has set up a judicial commission to investigate how bin Laden lived in Pakistan undetected for years.