Wives of world’s most wanted man

2011-05-14 16:23

Osama bin Laden once crowed to an interviewer: “Believe me, when your children and your wife become part of your struggle, life becomes very enjoyable.”

The late al-Qaeda chief uttered those words before 9/11, when he was able to keep his four wives and many children living comfortably in separate houses across Afghanistan.

Every few weeks or so, Bin Laden would drop in on a wife to fulfil his husbandly duties.

But at the end, his rosy portrayal of being married to jihad was sorely tested.

His family must have driven him nuts. During his last days in Abbottabad, Pakistan, Bin Laden had to contend with three wives and 17 noisy children under one roof.

He had no escape from the din, save for furtive pacing around the garden late at night or vanishing into his so-called command and control centre – a dank, windowless room.

Swathed against the Himalayan chill in a woollen shawl, he recorded rants that displayed an ever-widening disconnect with the daily grind of terrorism. His last oddball offerings were on climate change and capitalism.

Bin Laden, the world’s most wanted terrorist, was also a family man.

An Arab woman married to an al-Qaeda fighter said that after 9/11, Bin Laden and his lieutenants made provisions for their families to flee Nato’s impending invasion of Afghanistan.

His youngest wife, Amal Ahmed al-Sadah, may have escaped to Yemen via Pakistan, while Bin Laden’s other wives are thought to have fled through Iran. But the terrorist got lonely.

After setting up camp in Pakistan and breaking his own orders, he summoned back three wives: the most recent addition, al-Sadah, plus two Saudi women he’d wed in the 1980s.

The Saudis were mature, educated women – Khairiah Sabar was a child psychologist and Siham Sabar an Arabic grammar teacher.

Bin Laden had been their husband for 25 and 27 years, respectively.

US counter-terrorism experts, who are eager to interrogate the wives, now in Pakistani custody, will surely want to know how al-Qaeda smuggled the boss’s wives and their kids to Abbottabad to ease his solitude.

Bin Laden married six times, but one marriage ended in divorce and another was annulled. While in Afghanistan, the wives were able to steer clear of one another.

According to a 2002 interview that “AS”, presumed to be ­al-Sadah, gave to the magazine Al Majalla, the women “did not live in one house.

Each wife lived in her own house. There were two wives in Kandahar. The third wife had a house in Kabul and the fourth in the Tora Bora mountains”.

Still, a polygamous family is not without its frictions.

When al-Sadah joined the growing clan in 2000, “Bin Laden’s other wives were upset, and even his mother chastised him,” according to Lawrence Wright, journalist and author of The Looming Tower: al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11.

Judging by the blueprints of the Abbottabad compound, Bin Laden tried to keep his three families separate but equal.

Each wife and her children were allotted their own floor and Bin Laden would spend time with each group.

When US Navy Seals raided the compound, they found Bin Laden on the third floor with ­al-Sadah.

So far, Bin Laden’s three widows have not been charged with any crime.

Pakistan has said it will eventually expel the three to Yemen and Saudi Arabia, and will grant direct access to US interrogators when the trio “is ready”.

As for useful intelligence information, an Arab woman with ties to al-Qaeda said that al-Qaeda militants “tend not to tell their wives anything about their operations”.

Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir, who interviewed Bin Laden in 1997, recalls: “Osama once told me men should never share their secrets with women.”

Nevertheless, these three women all have vital stories to tell of how al-Qaeda’s network in Pakistan managed to smuggle them back to their forlorn terrorist husband and keep them hidden for so long.

As widows, under Islam, they are free to marry again, if they wish. But few suitors are likely to step forward. Marrying a widow of the world’s most wanted man has its own complications. – Time 

The many lives of Osama’s wives

» Najwa Ghanem, a Syrian and a first cousin, was 15 when she married him, when he was scarcely two years her elder.

Back then, Bin Laden was a rich and well-connected Saudi youth, and Ghanem had every reason to believe she was destined for a life of luxury.

Instead, she raised 11 children on the run, struggling to keep her looks in the scorching deserts of Afghanistan.

After 9/11, she fled Afghanistan with a mentally disabled son and is thought to have returned to her native Syria.

»  Khadijah Sharif was a teacher who was nine years older than Bin Laden when they wed in 1983.

She reportedly bore him three children before a divorce some time between 1993 and 1996, when they were living in Sudan and Bin Laden fell foul of the Saudi regime.

»  Khairiah Sabar , who Bin Laden married in 1985, was the “spiritual mother” of the sprawling family, according to a woman who knew the Bin Ladens in Afghanistan.

This source claims that after 9/11, Sabar fled through Iran, where she was detained before the Iranians allowed her to return to Saudi Arabia. From there, she slipped back into Pakistan to rejoin Bin Laden in Abbottabad.

» Siham Sabar , who was also captured in the Abbottabad house, married Bin Laden in 1987.

Militant sources say that after 9/11 she may have slipped into Pakistan, remaining there in hiding until it was safe for her to answer her husband’s summons.

» Unknown . Bin Laden’s fifth marriage is a mystery.

He rashly married a woman of unknown nationality in Khartoum in 1994, but the marriage was annulled within 48 hours before it was consummated.

» Amal Ahmed al-Sadah may have been as young as 15 when she was shipped off to marry Bin Laden, nearly 30 years her elder, in Kandahar.

Wed in 2000, they had one daughter, Safiyah, who was allegedly in the bedroom with her father and mother when the Navy Seals shot him dead. – Time Magazine

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