Pakistan deports Bin Laden family

Osama bin Laden’s three widows and his children have been deported from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia.

Osama bin Laden’s three widows and his children have been deported from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia.

The move comes less than a week before the first anniversary of the American raid which killed the al Qaida leader in his hideout in a military town.

The departure of the family closed another chapter in an affair that cemented Pakistan’s reputation as a hub of Islamist extremism and cast doubt on its trustworthiness as a Western ally. In February, authorities bulldozed the large compound where bin Laden had lived in the north-western garrison town of Abbottabad.

The US commandos took bin Laden’s body, which they later buried at sea, but left his family behind. His wives and children were detained by Pakistani authorities immediately after the pre-dawn raid on May 2 last year.

Two of the widows are from Saudi Arabia, and the third is from Yemen.

They were interrogated by Pakistani intelligence agents and eventually charged last month with illegally entering and living in the country.

The three wives and two adult daughters were convicted and sentenced to 45 days in prison. Their prison term, which was spent at a well-guarded house in Islamabad, ended earlier this month.

Soon after midnight, a van took the women and children from the house in the centre of the capital, Islamabad, en route to the airport. Officials covered the vehicle with sheets to prevent photographers from taking their pictures.

A statement from the Interior Ministry said 14 members of the bin Laden family had been deported to the “country of their choice, Saudi Arabia”.

Few details have been released about the family, but officials have said bin Laden had three wives, at least eight children and some grandchildren living with him in the house when it was raided by the Americans.

It is unclear whether Pakistan gave US intelligence officials any access to the wives, who are likely to have information about how bin Laden managed to evade capture in Pakistan for nearly a decade following the September 11 2001 terror attacks in the United States.

The Pakistani government has denied knowing the terrorist leader’s whereabouts. US officials say they have no evidence that senior Pakistani officials knew bin Laden was in Abbottabad, but questions remain.

A Pakistani government commission formed to investigate how bin Laden lived in the country and the circumstances of the American raid has yet to publish its report, but it is widely expected to be a whitewash.

The Yemeni wife, Amal Ahmed Abdel-Fatah al-Sada, told Pakistani police that the al Qaida chief lived in five houses while on the run in Pakistan for nine years and fathered four children, two of whom were born in Pakistani government hospitals.

Saudi officials have given little information about the family and the plan to deport them. The country stripped bin Laden of his citizenship in 1994 because of his verbal attacks against the Saudi royal family, and there have been questions about whether the country would accept the women.

Pakistani officials were outraged that the US did not tell them about the operation against bin Laden until after it happened – a decision American officials explained by saying they were worried the information would be leaked.

Relations between the two countries plummeted after the raid, and have yet to recover.

Besides facing difficult questions about how bin Laden was able to hide in the country for so long, Pakistan’s army faced unusual domestic criticism because it was unable to stop the American raid from taking place, or even detect it while it was taking place.

Last November, US air strikes inadvertently killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on the Afghan border, dealing another blow to ties still strained from the bin Laden raid.

Washington, which needs Pakistani co-operation against al Qaida and in trying to end the Afghan War, is trying to rebuild the relationship.

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