Warrick Page for The New York Times
But the feudal landlord who owns much of the land in the area, his tenant farmers and the local police were all in disbelief.
“It’s a joke, played on all of us,” the local police inspector said as he patrolled the village, checking on security after a horde of journalists turned up there looking for Bin Laden’s erstwhile home. “It’s absurd,” he said. He asked not to be named in keeping with police force rules.
“It’s impossible,” said Liaquat Khan, the main landowner in the region, whose ancestor Shah Muhammad gave his name to the village and founded the nearby town of Haripur. “It is a very open place, with 50 houses, and they are very poor people who live there,” he said.
While the surrounding district has been known to harbor militants, there seemed little sign here that this village could. There is no walled compound or well-protected house like that used by Bin Laden in the city of Abbottabad. Farmers live in simple houses, with a few rooms surrounding a courtyard where children play among the buffalo and chickens. Most everyone knows everyone else here, and many are related in some way.
“Everybody has a very small house and they are overcrowded,” said Muhammad Saleem, a 35-year-old chicken farmer. “There is no place to rent, and we could not give a room to a stranger.”
Mr. Khan insisted that the feudal system is such that no villager would host an outsider without checking first with him. “They give me daily reports from the village,” he said of his tenants.
The one anomaly in the village was the mullah’s house, which was a palatial two-story building with high columns and deep verandah — but uninhabited and still under construction. The mullah, Noor Muhammad, was not at home but his two sons said that it went against tradition to rent your home out to a stranger.
“There is only one stranger here,” said Muhammad Iqbal, 36, one of the mullah’s sons. “He lives in the next-door village. He is Roshan Khan, an Afghan shepherd, and he lives in a tent,” he said. Mr. Iqbal said the money to build the house had come from another brother who had been working for 10 years in Saudi Arabia.
Still, if Chak Shah Muhammad does not reveal an obvious hiding place for a fugitive, the town of Haripur, just a mile away, and the wider Haripur District, which adjoins Abbottabad, has harbored its share of militants.
Over the years since the Sept. 11 attacks, about 20 militants have been arrested in the district, the police say. Most of the militants were members of Pakistani groups, like Sipah-e-Sahaba, but at least one was a foreigner suspected of ties to Al Qaeda.
In May 2009, a local house owner went to the police to complain that his tenant, an Egyptian, had not paid him rent for three months. The police raided the house and detained the man, who was known as Abdullah al-Misri, and found a wealth of jihadist propaganda videos and other material. Mr. Misri had been living in the house, just 10 minutes from the center of Haripur, for four years apparently unknown to and unhindered by the local police and intelligence services.
The police, who believed Mr. Misri was a member of Al Qaeda, allowed his wife and four daughters to remain in the house but kept them under surveillance. Then later that year, gunmen attacked the police and tried to take the women away. Three policemen were killed in the attack and one gunman was killed. He was named as Ijaz, from Abbottabad, and was found to have connections to Al Qaeda.
As often happens in Pakistan, the state failed to prosecute Mr. Misri on any charges of militancy or terrorism. He was imprisoned on immigration violations and released on bail in 2010, whereupon he disappeared, along with his family.
On Saturday, officials in Haripur District did not seem to take the report of Bin Laden hiding here seriously.
The deputy police chief of Haripur, Najib Bhagvi, conceded that there were people with extremist sympathies in the district who could help such fugitives. Nevertheless he ruled out the chances that Bin Laden had lived in the area. “There is not a single chance of having such a high-level target here,” he said.
“If he was in this area, certainly the authorities should have been looking much more carefully,” said Omar Ayub Khan, a former state minister of finance who lives in Haripur. “But he came here from Afghanistan, and American forces should have been looking more carefully when he escaped from there,” he said.