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Could bin Laden have been caught earlier? Report details his life after Sept. 11

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Osama bin Laden was significantly under the radar in Pakistan before his assassination in 2011. (Source: GNU Image/MGN Online) Osama bin Laden was significantly under the radar in Pakistan before his assassination in 2011. (Source: GNU Image/MGN Online)

(RNN) – It is common knowledge that it took a highly trained team of Navy SEAL's to capture Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011.

What is just coming to light is that bin Laden could have been captured within a few years of Sept. 11, 2001, had a Pakistani police officer in the nation's Swat Valley recognized him.

Documents first obtained by Al Jazeera America detail the investigation by Pakistan's Abbottabad Commission that began one month after the killing of al-Qaeda's top leader.

According to the testimony of the wife of Ibrahim al-Kuwaiti, one of bin Laden's bodyguards, bin Laden was pulled over for speeding in either 2002 or 2003. The wife, only listed in the documents as Maryam, testified that the incident occurred on one of many trips the group took to a local bazaar.

She said was unsure how the officer did not identify bin Laden, who spent 10 years atop the FBI's most-wanted list. The dossier said that all Maryam knew was that her husband "quickly settled the matter."

She herself was unaware of bin Laden's identity at the time, who was referred to as the "tall Arab." At one point, the report says "she tried to probe Ibrahim (her husband) but he firmly told her not to press him for details, and not to be too curious" about his identity.

The 337-page commission's report gives an overview of the outrage the Pakistani government felt shortly after the U.S. killed bin Laden on Pakistani soil. The commission says it intended its report to be neither "a witch hunt nor a whitewash" but "a search for the truth within the parameters of its mandates ... wherever it led."

The document was thoroughly critical of the nation's government, military and intelligence agencies, bringing to light their "gross incompetence" and "collective failures" at pinpointing bin Laden's whereabouts and activities.

"The whole episode of the U.S. assassination mission of May 2, 2011 and the Pakistan government's response before, during and after appears in large part to be a story of complacency, ignorance, negligence, incompetence, irresponsibility and possibly worse at various levels inside and outside the government," the document said.

The commission is especially critical of the Inter-Services Intelligence group – Pakistan's top intelligence agency – who did not know that bin Laden's compound, eventually raided, was where the world's No. 1 fugitive may have been since mid-2005. The Abbottabad compound was also near Pakistan's military academy.

The report details many other clues into bin Laden's daily activities and locales during his 10 years as the world's most-wanted man. One instance noted that bin Laden would wear a cowboy hat that he thought would help him stay undetected by overhead American drones. It also said, whenever he felt ill, he treated himself "with traditional Arab medicine ... and whenever he felt sluggish he would take some chocolate with an apple."

He only had two bodyguards and few clothes, having he and his family live "extremely frugally" and under a low profile, secluded from even the families with which they lived. His wives said "he was not fond of possessions," and said bin Laden "trusted in Allah for his protection." The documents go on to say that bin Laden did not have political conversations with his wives and was a stern but affectionate grandfather.

The report also details Pakistan's disdain that the U.S. military caught and killed bin Laden on their soil and that they were not notified. The report also claims that the U.S. made no attempt to take bin Laden alive.

"Altogether, the [Navy SEAL's] mission was in Pakistani territory and airspace for just over 3 hours," the report said.

The report notes that there were no pictures of his body and says it was "dumped ... in the Indian Ocean with the story line that it was buried in accordance with Islamic rituals."

The Pakistani commission's report also states that the U.S.'s involvement speaks to the nation's weak government at the time.

"The failure was primarily an intelligence-security failure that was rooted in political irresponsibility and the military exercise of authority and influence in police and administrative areas, for which it neither had constitutional or legal authority, not the necessary expertise and competence," the document said.

The commission questioned whether members of the Pakistani government helped bin Laden and members of his party travel and stay under the radar.

"Given the length of stay and the changes of residence of [Osama bin Laden] and his family in Pakistan ... the possibility of some such direct or indirect and 'plausibly deniable' support cannot be ruled out," the report said. 

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