Sunday, May 15, 2011

Osama bin Laden dead: Arab world's future is democracy, says his widow's brother

The brother of the young woman whom Osama bin Laden took as his last wife has declared that the Arab world's future now lies in democracy, not radical Islam.

By Jeb Boone and Shatha al-Harazi in Sana'a 15 May 2011

Zakaria al Sada, whose sister Amal was shot and wounded during the raid that killed bin Laden thirteen days ago, spoke out in an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, in which he also pleaded for her release by the Pakistani authorities.

"Amal should be brought back to be with her family," said Mr Sada, 24, who has been taking part in the recent "Arab Spring" street protests demanding political reform in Yemen. "Bin Laden is dead, al-Qaeda is over, there is no reason to keep her."

Amal, 29, is currently being held in Pakistan after being shot in the leg during the US raid on the al-Qaeda leader's compound at Abbottabad on May 2.

Her family, from the city of Ibb, in the rugged mountains of northern Yemen, have demanded the Pakistani and Yemeni governments allow her to now return home with the child she fathered with the al-Qaeda leader. She is being kept incommunicado in a military hospital near Islamabad, unable to speak to her Yemeni family with whom she has had virtually no contact since marrying bin Laden in 1999.

The fifth child out of three brothers and four sisters, her liaison with the world's most wanted terrorist was the product of a traditional arranged marriage fixed up by a bin Laden follower known as Rasdah Mohammed Saeed - also known as Abu al-Fida, who is now a member of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Although the family knew who bin Laden was, they had no objection to the union as it took place prior to the 9/11 atrocities, at a time when he was seen by many in Yemen as an Islamic warrior who had distinguished himself fighting the Russians in Afghanistan. The jihad against Soviet occupation was a popular cause in Yemen, where many had bitter memories of the fall of the southern half of their country to Marxist rule in the 1960s.

"In 1999, bin Laden was respected as a freedom fighter and fought against the Soviet occupation," said Mr Sada. "This was before September 11. That is why my father consented to the match. He was not a wanted man then. No one considered him to be a terrorist."

Bin Laden paid a $5,000 dowry for Amal, who went to Afghanistan to wed him and soon after bore him a daughter, Safia. Knowing the risks that life at his side would bring, the al-Qaeda leader is said to have given her the option of leaving the country. But she later told her father, Ahmed Abdel-Fatah al Sada, who made a brief visit to her before the 9/11 attacks, that she was happy and would willingly face "martyrdom". At the time of his father-in-law's visit, bin Laden gave no indication of the 9/11 plans, but did apparently warn that a world-changing event was imminent.

Describing his sister, Mr Sada painted a picture of a pious woman, who had been the apple of his father's eye.

"She has always been a very kind and polite girl," he said. "She was absolutely my parents' favourite daughter, and I remember how she used to gather us and give us lectures on good Islamic manners and taught us how to be kind to others. Once when we were children, we went to throw stones at our neighbours from the roof. Amal found out about it and told us off, reminding us how the Prophet ordered us to treat others with kindness."

The Sada family only found out that Amal was shot in the US raid on bin Laden's compound from subsequent news reports. Although the Pakistani authorities have said she will be released, they are worried that both the CIA and Pakistan's ISI intelligence service will consider her a "high-value" asset and keep her in detention.

"My mother cries constantly," added Mr Sada, who has asked Pakistan's ambassador to Yemen for help in getting his sister home. "At first, it was reported that she had actually been killed, and that put our family through undue suffering. However, we know that if the US wanted to get rid of Amal, they would have simply killed her along with Bin Laden. That fact eases our worries slightly.

"But Amal had nothing to do with al-Qaeda or terrorism of any kind. No law can incriminate her, and international law dictates that she should be returned to her family."

As of yet, he said, the family did not even know which hospital in Pakistan she was being held in - or even how many children she had conceived with bin Laden. They knew of only one child for certain, but suspected that at least one of the other 12 children found in the compound was hers.

"This is a humanitarian situation; these children have seen their father killed in front of their eyes and they should be treated by a psychiatrist," added Mr Sada. "Amal was also shot for no reason, she wasn't even armed."

A third year student in mass communication at Yemen's Sana'a University, the softly-spoken Mr Sada cut a rather different figure from his devout sister and extremist brother-in-law. Dressed in a navy blue suit rather than the traditional robes and jambiyah dagger favoured by many Yemeni men, he conducted the interview in a cafe popular with young "Facebook generation" Yemenis surfing the internet on laptops.

While bin Laden always railed against democracy - seeing it as the rule of man rather than God - Mr Sada has been engaged in Yemen's pro-democracy protests since January, when a popular uprising first toppled the government of Tunisia.

"I've been protesting since January 15, back when there were only 20 of us showing up to rallies," he said. "I am protesting against corruption, against the absence of justice and equality in Yemen. When people live in equality, there will be no more al-Qaeda."

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