LOS ANGELES, Calif.–Two years ago, a team of UCLA geography researchers and students used satellite images and studied the terrain around Osama bin Laden’s last known whereabouts and came up with a theory of where he might be hiding.
As it turned out Sunday, they were pretty close.
The team, led by UCLA geographer Thomas Gillespie, calculated there was an 88.9 percent chance the al-Qaida leader was hiding in an area within 300 kilometers of Tora Bora. Included in that radius was the Pakistani town of Abbottabad, where bin Laden was killed by Navy SEALs Sunday.
Gillespie’s team surmised that bin Laden was likely not hiding out in remote caves, but in a large town. They didn’t specify Abbottabad, but the team suggested that bin Laden might be in a Pakistani border town called Parachinar, about 300 miles west of where he was actually found.
According to the team’s 2009 paper, which was published in the MIT International Review, they concluded that bin Laden might be hiding out in a handful of buildings in the city. The researchers noted that he would likely be in a large compound with high ceilings and tall perimeter walls.
In an interview with Science Insider, a journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Gillespie said the team was working with limited information, since bin Laden’s last known location was about eight years old when the team was doing its work.
“The theory was basically that if you’re going to try and survive, you’re going to a region with a low extinction rate, a large town,” he said. “We hypothesized he wouldn’t be in a small town where people could report on him.”
He said he was not convinced that bin Laden would be hiding in a cave, as many had theorized over the years.
“Caves are cold and you can’t see people walking up to them,” he said.