Bin Laden's Saudi-born wives to return home seven months after raid that killed their husband, while his Yemeni spouse may be offered new home in Qatar
Jason Burke in Delhi
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 8 December 2011
Two wives of Osama bin Laden, held in Pakistan after the raid in May that killed their husband, are set to return to their homeland of Saudi Arabia, Pakistani officials have said.
A third wife will not travel back to her native land, Yemen, after authorities refused to accept her but may instead be offered a new home in Qatar, the Gulf emirate, a source in the Pakistani interior ministry told the Guardian.
All three women were detained by Pakistani military personnel after the American special forces raid on a house in the northern Pakistani city of Abbottabad during which Bin Laden was killed. Around a dozen children were also taken into Pakistani custody. According to the officials and Saudi press reports, the two Saudi-born wives, Khairiah Sabar and Siham Sabar, recently had their Saudi citizenship restored, a move which would allow their return, possibly as early as next week.
Khairiah married Bin Laden in 1985 and Siham, in 1987. When the extremist leader was stripped of his citizenship in 1994, the two women, both college graduates, also lost theirs.
With an official Pakistani inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the raid now complete, the women were free to go, the Pakistani officials said.
"We have been working with the Saudi officials since the [Pakistani] Judicial Commission on [the Abbottabad raid] interviewed the Bin Laden widows.
"The Saudi government has agreed to accept his children and two wives, and we are working on logistical arrangements now," one senior source said, requesting anonymity.
Eight children of the late al-Qaida leader would travel with the women, the official added.
Middle Eastern diplomats in Islamabad confirmed that a "resolution" had been reached in discussions over the repatriation of the wives but did not disclose any timetable.
However, there been no official confirmation from Riyadh, and the Saudi ambassador in Pakistan has told local reporters he has no knowledge of any forthcoming transfer.
Western officials in the region urged caution.
"Let's wait and see. It's likely they will go back [to Saudi Arabia] at some stage but it may well not be imminent," said one.
Recent Saudi press reports have claimed that authorities had restored the citizenship of the two women, both born in the southern port city of Jeddah, after members of their families and that of their late husband lobbied senior Saudi royals.
Jeddah is also the home town of the Bin Laden family and is where Osama, who was 54 when he died, was raised.
Officials in Riyadh told the Guardian earlier this year that, at least theoretically, there was no objection to the women's return to Saudi Arabia.
Hamza, the 22-year-old son of Bin Laden, was killed in the May raid.
The bodies of both men were buried at sea. The women and children were handcuffed by the US special forces who then left the scene.
During their detention by Pakistani authorities the women, one of whom was wounded in the Abbottabad raid, were interviewed by American intelligence agencies.
The three wives had spent up to five years living in relatively austere conditions in the house in the northern Pakistani town.
Pictures of their home showed modest furnishings, cheap foam mattresses, no air conditioning and old televisions though there was a large, seemingly well-tended, vegetable garden.
Bin Laden married at least five times. His first wife, a Syrian, left him in Afghanistan weeks before the 9/11 attacks and returned to her homeland. A second wife was divorced in the early 1990s. His fifth wife, Yemeni Amal Ahmed al-Sadah, married him in 2000.
This leaves the third and fourth wives, the two Saudis.
According to local or Arab traditions, it should be the close relatives of a dead father, usually the brothers, who look after the bereaved spouses and children.
It appears that despite the rift between Bin Laden and his family, one of Saudi Arabia's wealthiest business dynasties, some efforts have been made to take care of the widows.
At least two of Bin Laden's sons – Hamza and Saad – apparently followed him into radicalism. Both were groomed as extremist leaders from an early age. Bin Laden had told interviewers that he hoped his daughter Safiya, now believed to be 12, would also take up arms.
She is still in Pakistani custody and has said that she witnessed her father being shot dead, senior Pakistani officials told the Guardian days after the raid.