GHULAM DAG, Afghanistan — For some of his time in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden lived with one of his wives and several of his children in a sprawling, mud-walled compound in this hilltop village outside the eastern provincial capital of Jalalabad.
Although his family remained here, Bin Laden's regular use of the residence ended about four years ago, local people say, after the fundamentalist Taliban regime took power and just as Bin Laden's reputation as a leader of international terror attacks was on the rise.
But according to Mohammed Nawab, a portly, nervous moujahedeen commander who now guards the compound, Bin Laden came back at least once after the terrorist attacks on the United States.
"He came here after Sept. 11, just before the bombing strikes began," Nawab said. "He left with his family and the other Arabs."
Jalalabad fell to anti-Taliban forces last week. On Friday, Nawab reluctantly allowed reporters to tour the warren of three- and four-room living quarters inside the gated compound.
Sarhab Qadri, who now is chief of intelligence for the eastern region of Afghanistan that includes this place, said many of the several hundred Arab families living here and in Jalalabad had moved to a remote mountain valley town called Tora Bora. It is about 40 miles away on the other side of the towering White Mountains.
Qadri said the Arabs essentially rented this entire mountain community, paying the equivalent of $50 to each family for the right to take over their homes.
Mohammed Alem, an aide to the regional military commander, said Friday that he is convinced that Bin Laden is hiding with the other Arabs in the Tora Bora area.
His feeling is shared by many residents of Jalalabad, where Tora Bora has a reputation as a great hide-out dating back to the 1980-89 war against occupying Soviet forces.
How much credence to give to the idea is unclear. Bin Laden has been rumored to be living in several locations in Afghanistan. Local pride appears to be involved in claims that the world's most-wanted man has chosen to secret himself in a favorite nearby hideaway.
Alem, who often visited Tora Bora during his time as a moujahedeen fighter, described its location as a heavily wooded valley lined with deep caves. He said its tree-veiled mountains made it impenetrable to bombs from Soviet aircraft.
These days, few people are willing to risk an uninvited visit to Tora Bora, which is a four-hour drive from Jalalabad. A local militia commander reportedly lost six men and several pickup trucks recently when they strayed too close to the place and were attacked by Arab forces.
A spokesman for the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla., which is directing the air war, confirmed Friday that sites within the broader area around Kabul and Jalalabad were being targeted by American bombers, but he could not confirm that sites in Tora Bora were among them.
Reporters allowed to tour the Bin Laden compound in Ghulam Dag on Friday found signs of domesticity mixed with a preoccupation with high-tech weaponry and communications equipment.
Several shelves were filled with children's cough remedies and other medications. A stack of books included a brochure for a "Chemical Agent, Automatic Alarm System" with a handwritten note listing the price at $4,200 per set. Religious books shared shelves with catalogs for sophisticated communications gear.
Ghulam Dag is a community of about 20 large compounds, each capable of housing 10 or more families. It is also the home of Yunis Khalis, a local religious leader and moujahedeen commander known to maintain close ties to the Taliban.
Reporters gained access to the area by sending a note to Khalis, who granted permission to enter the area but declined to meet with them. Local interpreters accompanying the reporters noted several Taliban commanders among Khalis' security forces.
The unsmiling commanders guided the reporters, first in a convoy of vehicles and then walking single file through a minefield, to the site where an American fighter plane dropped three bombs on Thursday.
One of the large craters, about 20 feet in diameter, was near a stack of boxes containing rounds of 40-millimeter antiaircraft ammunition. Other stores of ammunition, including artillery shells, lined the dry gully. All were left out in the open.
One commander said Taliban troops had moved the ammunition there from a nearby military base after the U.S. bombing campaign began in October. As he spoke, the group was startled by an aircraft flying overhead. The commanders ordered the reporters back to their cars until one of the group identified it as a U.N. plane.
Late Friday night, a single American aircraft dropped bombs in the same vicinity again, shaking buildings in nearby Jalalabad.
Times staff writer John Hendren in Washington contributed to this report.