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May 4, 2011 - Boys who lived across the street from Osama Bin Laden's home (shown in picture) said that they could hear the voices of the children living in Bin Laden's compound, but said they never saw them leave the house. During the raid, they heard the screams and crys of the children. Photo: Charla Jones for The Globe and Mail (Charla Jones/Charla Jones)
May 4, 2011 - Boys who lived across the street from Osama Bin Laden's home (shown in picture) said that they could hear the voices of the children living in Bin Laden's compound, but said they never saw them leave the house. During the raid, they heard the screams and crys of the children. Photo: Charla Jones for The Globe and Mail (Charla Jones/Charla Jones)

What really happened in the killing of Osama bin Laden? Add to ...

The account of the killing of the world's most wanted man has changed dramatically over the course of just three days. From whether Osama bin Laden was armed when he was shot dead to whether he used his own wife as a human shield, the official narrative seems to change by the minute.

White House officials have said the discrepancies in their accounts of the nighttime raid on a Pakistani compound are the result of a rush to relay the story of a complex, quick-moving military operation.

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As more of the assault team's 79 members returned to Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, they were questioned about the attack. Each person's version was crosschecked with that of their comrades. Over time, a clearer picture emerged, administration officials said.

However, divergent explanations of what actually happened inside the Abbottabad compound also speak to the unusual and relatively new pressures of releasing information about an unprecedented story in a hyper-accelerated news cycle, where tools such as Twitter play an important role.

As the United States changes its story, here is a reality check:

How much was Mr. bin Laden's hideout worth?

The White House first described the house where Mr. bin Laden lived in Abbottabad as an upscale, million-dollar mansion in an affluent suburb. A U.S. government-supplied illustration confirmed a sprawling, triangular compound consisting of a three-storey house, a satellite dish and guardhouse all surrounded by privacy walls. The tumbledown building was ringed by surveillance cameras and barbed wire, but the paint was peeling and the walls were water-damaged. There was no air conditioning.

Now, property assessors in Abbottabad offer a much different valuation, saying the house was worth half that. The television pictures of the hideout reveal nothing of the opulence suggested by the White House. Its rooms are strewn with trash and dirty mattresses where the bin Laden family presumably slept.

The property was probably worth just $80,000 when purchased about eight years ago as an empty field, one property dealer told The Globe, but would fetch about $500,000 in the current market.

"This is not a posh area. We call it a middling area," another property dealer, Muhammad Anwar, said.

Asked about the American estimate, he scoffed: "Maybe that's the assessment from a satellite. But here on the ground, that's the price."

What did the U.S. commandos find inside the house?

When reporters asked John Brennan, assistant to the President for Homeland Security, what kind of intelligence Navy Seals found inside the bin Laden compound, he demurred.

"I'm not going to go into details about what might have been acquired," he said Monday afternoon in a news conference.

"We are trying to determine exactly the worth of whatever information we might have been able to pick up, and it's not necessarily quantity - frequently it's quality," he continued.

It has now emerged that the commando team found a number of computer drives and disks, which an unnamed U.S. official dubbed "the mother lode of intelligence."

The website Politico says commandos seized personal computers, thumb drives and electronic equipment. Exactly what that data contains is now the subject of intense speculation, as analysts comb through the files in Afghanistan.

The information could reveal anything from specific details on al-Qaeda's finances to the terrorist network's planned attacks. Some say the data could include fresh information on Mr. bin Laden's involvement in previous attacks. The files could be encrypted or totally empty, others warn.

When senior al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah was captured in 2002, the intelligence haul included his bank cards, computer disks, diary, notebooks and phone numbers.

Why won't Washington release the photos?

U.S. President Barack Obama was under pressure to release graphic images of Mr. bin Laden's corpse to dispel doubts that he is indeed dead.

The President ultimately decided against it because he believed such a move would create a threat to national security, inflaming anti-American sentiment among al-Qaeda's supporters.

The dilemma is really a double-edged sword: If he doesn't release the photos, Mr. bin Laden's followers might not even believe that he's dead.

"There is no doubt that we killed Osama bin Laden," Mr. Obama said in an interview with the CBS News program 60 Minutes, according to an excerpt of an interview read to reporters by Jay Carney, the White House press secretary.

"We don't need to spike the football."

Once Mr. Obama's presidency ends, however, all bets could be off.

Sarah Palin, one possible 2012 GOP presidential hopeful, tweeted her dissent. "Show photo as warning to others seeking America's destruction. No pussy-footing around, no politicking, no drama; it's part of the mission," she wrote.

Within hours of news breaking that Mr. bin Laden had been killed, fake pictures of his bullet-ridden face started surfacing on the Internet. Some of those were broadcast on Arab stations in the Muslim world and posted to jihadist websites.

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