Sunday, May 8, 2011

Exclusive: Bin Laden's young Yemeni bride was confident, conservative

From Mohammed Jamjoom and Tim Lister, CNN

Ibb, Yemen, May 8, 2011 -(CNN) -- When 18-year-old Amal al-Sadah became the fifth wife of 43-year-old Osama bin Laden in 2000, she was "a quiet, polite, easygoing and confident teenager" who came from a big, conservative family in Yemen, a relative told CNN in an exclusive interview.

The relative, Ahmed, who knew al-Sadah growing up, said she came from a traditional family in Ibb, Yemen -- established and respectable but certainly with no militant views paralleling the al Qaeda leader's terrorism.

The family had no connection to al Qaeda prior to the arranged marriage, Ahmed told CNN during an interview in Ibb on Friday.

While some accounts say a matchmaker put the couple together, the relative wasn't sure of that report, adding he heard many stories about how the two were betrothed.

"She was a very good overall person," Ahmed told CNN. "The Sadah family is a big family in Ibb. The family of Amal was like most Yemeni families. They were conservative but also lived a modern life when compared to other families.

"The family is a respected family and is well known. The family had no extremist views, even though they came from a conservative background," Ahmed said, referring to al-Sadah's parents and siblings.

The Yemeni government is apparently pressuring the family not to speak publicly about their notorious in-law, bin Laden, Ahmed said.

"From what I know, the government would give the Sadah family an extremely difficult time and always warns them from talking to the media," Ahmed said. "The government tells them that the information or comments they give would be misunderstood or misinterpreted and could hurt the family more than the government."

An al Qaeda figure in Yemen named Sheikh Rashed Mohammed Saeed Ismail said he arranged the marriage and told the Yemen Post in 2008 that he was "the matchmaker" and that al-Sadah was one of his students, describing her as "religious and pious enough."

Ismail, whose brother spent time as a detainee at Guantanamo Bay, accompanied the young bride-to-be to Afghanistan in July 2000, where she and bin Laden were married after he gave her family a $5,000 dowry.

The marriage was apparently a political alliance to shore up bin Laden's support in the land of his ancestors.

"I was told after they got married that Osama did not want to cut his ties with his ancestral home, Yemen," Ahmed said.

Back in Yemen, al-Sadah was barely spoken of again, Ahmed told CNN.

"After her marriage, we heard a little about her, and her direct family knew the dangers of talking about such topics," Ahmed said. "Even if anyone asked them about her, they would avoid talking about the issue."

At first, Yemeni authorities didn't seem aware that they were giving al-Sadah a passport in 2000 for the purpose of marrying bin Laden in Afghanistan, Ahmed said.

"Only a small number of people knew about the story of the marriage in the start, so it wasn't difficult to travel," Ahmed said. "The Yemeni government gave the family a hard time after she left Yemen. The family is still being watched and have been interrogated dozens of times. Her father also went through a lot."

The marriage was immediately fruitful, and al-Sadah and bin Laden gave birth to their first child, a daughter named Safiyah, in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in the weeks after 9/11.

According to Pakistani officials this week, Safiyah was inside the Abbottabad, Pakistan, compound where bin Laden was killed Monday by U.S. Navy SEALs, and she probably saw her father shot dead.

Ahmed asserted that al-Sadah and bin Laden also bore other children, but he couldn't provide details in his brief interview with CNN.

After 9/11, bin Laden told Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir that he had plans for his youngest daughter, Safiyah.

"I became a father of a girl after September 11," he said. "I named her after Safiyah who killed a Jewish spy at the time of the Prophet. (My daughter) will kill enemies of Islam like Safiyah."

In the aftermath of bin Laden's death, al-Sadah has told interrogators that for five years, she didn't venture outside the walled compound, according to a Pakistani military spokesman.

Al-Sadah, now 29, who was wounded in the raid, said she lived in the compound in Abbottabad with eight of bin Laden's children and five others from another family, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas told CNN this week.

All of them have been in Pakistani custody since the pre-dawn U.S. commando raid Monday that killed bin Laden, and they will eventually be returned to their country of origin, Abbas said.

With five wives, bin Laden had a total of 20 children, and one of his adult sons was also reported killed in the commando assault.

Al-Sadah is the youngest of the five wives.

Yemeni opposition warns against postponement of Gulf deal

Sana'a, May 8, 2011- Yemen's largest opposition group on Sunday warned the ruling party against any further delay of the Gulf-brokered transition deal, which aims at ending the unrest in the country.

The Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) coalition said the postponement, which was caused by President Ali Abdullah Saleh's refusal to sign the deal, was unacceptable.

Protesters, who have been demanding Saleh's ouster, on Saturday called on the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to withdraw a power transition plan that has the eventual goal of putting an end to tensions in Yemen.

Saleh had backtracked on earlier statements that indicated that he had accepted the Gulf proposal to step down and transfer powers to his vice president in a government of national unity.

The GCC said it would continue to work on getting both the opposition and Saleh to sign the deal in order to maintain stability and security in Yemen.

Tens of thousands of people have been staging demonstrations across Yemen, calling for an end to Saleh's 32-year rule.

Protesters have repeatedly said they disapprove of the deal, which guarantees Saleh immunity from prosecution. They say they will not stop demonstrating until Saleh is also tried for the deaths of more than 100 protesters.

Under the proposed deal, the president would also retain the right to remain as head of the ruling party.

Caretaker Prime Minister Ali Mujawar went on a Gulf tour on Sunday, excluding Qatar, which Saleh accused of being 'involved in a conspiracy' against Yemen.

The GCC comprises six Gulf countries: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Yemen's opposition urges Gulf states to press Saleh

SANAA, May 8, 2011 (Reuters) - Yemen's opposition coalition called on Gulf states Sunday to pressure President Ali Abdullah Saleh to relinquish power as protests against his long rule continued.

The call came ahead of Tuesday's summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the regional bloc that presented a plan 10 days ago to try to end months of unrest in Yemen, which Saleh has so far avoided agreeing to.

The plan requires the Yemeni leader, until recently backed by Saudi Arabia and the United States as a bulwark against al Qaeda and regional instability, to resign 30 days after signing.

"The Joint Meetings (coalition) calls on brotherly countries to withhold any official contacts with what remains of this bloody regime and to refrain from offering any material or moral support which it would use to suppress the people," an opposition statement said.

"Any additional delay in signing this agreement by the regime ... or what is left of it, will force it to face its people's choices ... which we invite our (GCC) brothers to support," the statement said.

Critics saw Saleh's refusal a week ago to sign the deal as a clear sign that the shrewd political survivor had no intention of stepping down quickly after three decades in office.

Demonstrations demanding Saleh's resignation were held on Sunday in areas including Yemen's Indian Ocean island of Socotra, the southwestern city of Ibb, the southern city of Taiz and the Red Sea coastal province of Hudaida, residents said.

Plain-clothed gunmen believed to be security police opened fire on demonstrators in the town of Saidia in Hudaida, killing one person and injuring six, a local activist said.

"A march started as a protest against fuel shortages but turned into an anti-Saleh demonstration," the activist told Reuters by telephone.

In Taiz, about 2,000 people -- many of them teachers and students -- blockaded an education ministry building in a demonstration demanding the postponement of school exams. Many also chanted slogans calling on Saleh to resign.

Later, hundreds of anti-government protesters joined the gathering and clashes broke out with police and troops as the crowd moved to block a main street. Several people were hurt when police shot into the air and used teargas and water cannons to disperse the protesters, a Reuters witness said.

Many of the demonstrators, who include students, tribesmen and activists, have vowed to stay on the streets until Saleh steps down. Many are not affiliated with opposition parties, comprised of Islamists, Arab nationalists and leftists who have cooperated with Saleh in the past.

Saleh has withstood three months of unrest and Friday called his opponents "outlaws" and "forces of terror."

Two Yemeni protesters shot dead

Mohammed al Qadhi

May 8, 2011

A 16-year-old student protester died in al Ma'afer district in the province of Taiz when police fired on demonstators. Residents in Aden, Taiz, Sa'ada and Hodeida observed a half-day shutdown of offices and businesses that is part of a civil disobedience campaign called by the protest organisers to pressure Mr Saleh to step aside.

"We call on the leaders of the GCC to stop any initiatives that result in alienating the Yemeni people," the Organising Committee of the Popular Youth Revolution, said yesterday in a statement.

"We call on the United States, the European Union and the permanent Security Council members to assume their moral responsibility and stop ... meddling directed against the will of the Yemeni people to ensure freedom and democracy," the statement read.

The statement added that the group rejects any plan that does not require Mr Saleh to quit immediately and face trial on corruption charges. It also warned the opposition parties of dealing with any agreement that "goes against the will of the Yemeni people".

The GCC plan stalled after Mr Saleh refused on May 1 to sign the agreement that would have him quit power within one month. The plan, which was endorsed last month by the Yemeni government and the Joint Meeting Parties, a six-party opposition coalition, calls for Mr Saleh to resign and hand power to his vice president a month after signing the proposal.

An opposition leader would then be appointed to lead an interim cabinet in preparing for presidential elections two months later.

"Our initiative is to help both parties to come to an agreement," Abdullatif Al Zayani, GCC secretary-general, told reporters in Abu Dhabi yesterday. "The heads of the GCC are concerned about what's going on in Yemen. They want to help the Yemeni people. I'm very optimistic about the approach and the initiative," he said.

"I wish Yemen and the great people of Yemen all the success in getting out of this crisis stronger and more unified," he said.

The deal offers Mr Saleh and his inner circle, including relatives who run branches of the security and military forces, immunity from prosecution.

Mohammed al Sabri, a leader of JMP said the GCC plan had been modified to allow Mr Saleh to sign as party leader rather than as president, a stipulation Mr Saleh demands.

He said the opposition informed the GCC that it does not accept this modification.

"Modifying the plan every now and then has put the JMP and the GCC in a difficult position and would allow the regime to exercise more violence," Mr al Sabri said.

Abdu al Janadi, Yemen's vice minister of information, said even if Mr Saleh signs as the head of the ruling party, he would not step down until protests end.

"The president will ... step down only after peace and stability are back to all parts of the country," Mr al Janadi said yesterday.

Source: The National

Yemen president not to quit until opposition ends security tension

SANAA, May 8 (Xinhua) -- Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh will not resign until the opposition remove all the causes of political and security tension, a senior official of Saleh's ruling party said on Sunday.

The Assistant Secretary-General of the ruling General People's Congress (GPC) Ahmed Obaid bin Dghar quoted by the GPC official website on Sunday as saying "the resignation of President Saleh will not be done until the opposition remove all the causes of political and security tension as well as lifting the daily street protests."

Bin Dghar also stipulated that the opposition should end rebellion inside the army units, insurgency of the Houthi-led northern Shiite group, separatist Southern Movement and the Yemen- based terrorist wing of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

The ruling party apparently raised its conditions in order to ink the GCC initiative through the remarks of its senior official, who at the same time renewed the GPC welcome to the six-nation GCC initiative, stressing it should be implemented in whole.

The political situation has aggravated by the ongoing three- month-old street protests that rocked major provinces of the impoverished country to repeat demands of an immediate end to the 33-year rule of embattled President Saleh.

The spokesman of opposition Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) Mohamed Qahtan told Xinhua earlier last week that they will go ahead in signing the GCC deal as peaceful street protests would continue because protesters practiced their rights guaranteed by the constitution of Yemen.

Upon the request of the protests' organization committee, civil disobedience reportedly continued on Sunday in major cities of provinces of Aden, Taiz, Al-Dhalee, Al-Hodayda, Hadramout, Ibb and Al-Bayda to press for Saleh's resignation.

Meanwhile, a Yemeni diplomat cited the visiting UN Secretary- General's Political Advisor Gamal bin Omar as saying that his Saturday's meetings with President Saleh and the opposition " revealed a big gap between the two sides and that a reconciliation agreement based on the GCC initiative seemed to be stalled."

The diplomat, who is familiar with the latest meeting between Saleh and his ruling party also told Xinhua on condition of anonymity that "Saleh has recently rearranged political and security situations of his regime and he (Saleh) clearly intends to remain in office until his term ends in 2013." President Saleh met with army and security top commanders on Saturday, directed them to raise the security and military vigilance to maintain security stability over what he said "recent violence by outlaws of the opposition, whose he accused of escalating political, security and economic crises," according to official Saba news agency.

More than 140 demonstrators have been killed in clashes with security forces since late January. There are also fears that the violence could escalate as the majority of the country's 23 million people own guns.