With a model of the Pakistani villa where he lived and a video of Barack Obama explaining his hesitancy about approving the raid, a new exhibition details the operation that killed 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden. “Revealed: The Hunt for Bin Laden”, which opens Friday at the September 11, 2001 attacks museum in New York, plots the ten-year search for the brains behind the single deadliest attack ever on the United States.
“It’s like being in the front row of history,” Alice Greenwald, president and chief executive of 9/11 Memorial Museum, told AFP.
“We get an insider’s view into ... how the raid was actually conducted from the people that were there,” she added.
The US intelligence services-led manhunt culminated overnight on May 1 and 2, 2011 with operation Geronimo, the commando raid that left Bin Laden, the orchestrator of the atrocity that killed almost 3,000 people and destroyed the Twin Towers, dead.
The exhibition, which will run until May 2021, contains no shattering revelations, such as possible collaboration between American and Pakistani spies. But using around 60 objects, including some seized in the villa, and dozens of photos and videos, visitors can see the work of the intelligence services as they try to find the Al-Qaeda leader.
The timeline includes bin Laden’s departure without a trace from the Tora Bora mountains in Afghanistan in late 2001 and the key identification of his messenger Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti and his jeep in Peshawar in 2010. Al-Kuwaiti would lead US agents to the quiet garrison city of Abbottabad, 50 miles (80 kilometers) from the Pakistani capital Islamabad and the villa where a mysterious figure would take a few steps inside the compound every day, like a prisoner.
The Americans nicknamed him “Pacer” before becoming convinced over time that he was the man they had been looking for—bin Laden. The exhibition focuses on the “human” story of the operation through multiple interviews: from senior officials who validated the assault to Navy Seal commandos who invaded the villa.
Anonymous agents explain how they understood that to find bin Laden they had to follow people who were likely to help him. “The gravity of that decision-making and the burden of that decision-making really comes across in this exhibition,” said Greenwald.
“I think it is a reminder of how decisions that are so momentous actually get made,” she added, referring to dilemmas about whether to attack the residence when it puts lives at risk. After 9/11, rivalries between the various branches of the US intelligence services were blamed for not sharing information that might have thwarted the attacks.
The exhibition celebrates their renewed unity, tenacity and courage.