The Pakistani city where Osama bin Laden was killed by Navy SEALS on May 2, 2011, made for a discordant place for the principal villain of 9/11 to die. No longer cave-bound in the sawtooth mountains of Waziristan, he had bunkered down amid modern conveniences: a gas-station mini-mart selling Diet Coke, a travel agency booking flights to Rome, a Barclays bank doling rupees through its high-functioning cash machine. Along with four major hospitals, the Pakistan Military Academy, and several prestigious academic institutions, Abbottabad (pronounced OPT-uh-bad by residents) is home to St. Luke’s Anglican Church, with a cherry-red door and stone walls that would not look out of place on Round Hill Road in Greenwich.
Four months on, the city is still abuzz with tourists and intelligence personnel. A generalized rage at the perceived chaos brought on by America has heightened tensions; there was a recent attack on local Evangelical Christians watching the 1979 film Jesus in a park. But even before the bin Laden hunters arrived, the town was not as quiet as it might have been. At irregular intervals, the surrounding hillsides boom with exploding dynamite, as miners quarry marble and other types of rock to be sold cheaply in Pakistani versions of Home Depot. The booms are disconcertingly familiar, mimicking the sounds of war.
Eliza Griswold, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, is the author of The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches From the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam.