RAWALPINDI: Osama bin Laden spent his last days sidelined by Al-Qaeda and slipping into dementia, possibly betrayed to the Americans by a jealous wife and his own deputy, a Pakistani investigator says.
In his quest for the truth about his country's most notorious guest, retired brigadier Shaukat Qadir spent eight months investigating the Al-Qaeda chief's life in Pakistan, using his army connections to retrace the steps of the United States commandos who stormed through the corridors of Osama's hideout on May 2 last year.
He spoke to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agents who interrogated Osama's wives and saw their interview transcripts, all thanks to a close relationship with Pakistani army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani.
'Al-Qaeda decided to retire him in 2003. He was going mentally senile. From 2001, he had some kind of degenerative disease and was coming up with fantasies.'
Retired brigadier Shaukat Qadir, who spent eight months investigating the Al-Qaeda chief's life in Pakistan
He has no evidence, but offers a tantalising image of a frail man resigned to death and betrayed by one of his wives in an Al-Qaeda plot - which, if true, would shed new light on the demise of the world's most-wanted man.
'Al-Qaeda decided to retire him in 2003. He was going mentally senile. From 2001, he had some kind of degenerative disease and was coming up with fantasies,' Mr Qadir said.
Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian doctor often considered the real brains behind Al-Qaeda, 'got fed up and decided to sideline' Osama when the leader started losing his mental faculties after the Sept 11, 2001 attacks on the US.
Mr Qadir says Osama moved frequently between hiding places in north-west Pakistan before Al-Qaeda decided Abbottabad was the perfect spot and built a home shielded by a towering wall for him, two of his wives and their children.
Mr Qadir's quixotic investigation began as a personal attempt to truth-check the competing accounts of Osama's last years in Pakistan. But his work has already come under scrutiny and criticism, mostly on the grounds that his heavy reliance on Pakistani military and intelligence sources leaves him open to official manipulation.
At the least, though, the end product - a novella-length report, still officially unpublished - offers tantalising possibilities about Osama's circumstances and the suspicions that drove relations between Pakistan and the US to the brink.
Mr Qadir claims that Osama's fifth and youngest wife, Amal Ahmed al-Sadah, told Pakistani interrogators that her husband underwent a kidney transplant operation in 2002 - a claim that, if proven, could help explain how the ailing Saudi militant was able to survive with a known kidney ailment, but raises questions about who was helping him.
He also heard of poisonous mistrust among Osama's wives. In the cramped Abbottabad house, he was told, tensions erupted between Sadah, described as 'the favoured wife', and Khairiah Saber, Osama's older wife who turned up at Abbottabad in March last year for the first time since the family was separated in 2001.
Mr Qadir says Saber had fled into Iran from Afghanistan and after the Iranians released her in late 2010, she spent several months in an Al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan before turning up at Abbottabad. Two months after she arrived, the US commandos raided the house.
The US says it was tipped off much earlier by an Al-Qaeda courier. But Mr Qadir contradicts that, stating that Zawahiri may have used Saber as bait for the Americans. In interrogation, Sadah accused her rival of having betrayed their husband to US intelligence.
Several of the conclusions that Mr Qadir draws in his report are highly contentious, such as a belief that Al-Qaeda operatives betrayed their leader to earn reward money from the US.
'They wanted bin Laden gone, and they wanted a share of the US$25 million (S$31.3 million),' he says.
Terrorism analyst Peter Bergen, author of a forthcoming book on Osama's last years, called that a 'ridiculous' notion.
On Thursday, Pakistan brought charges against Osama's three widows for illegally entering and living in the country, the interior minister said.
Despite Osama's death, tough questions remain: Who helped him stay on the run? How did the US Central Intelligence Agency track him down? And, perhaps most important, did Pakistan's generals know he was living a stone's throw from their leading military academy?
Pakistan's government says the answers will come from an official commission of inquiry, led by a Supreme Court judge, that has been working since May.
Yet few believe the Abbottabad Commission, as it is known, will succeed. And at times, the government has seemed more interested in moving on than seeking answers: Bulldozers moved in to demolish the compound last month, erasing a painful symbol of an embarrassing episode for the military.