Wife reveals Osama's life on the run
Islamabad, March 30: Osama bin Laden spent nine years on the run in Pakistan after the September 11 attacks, during which time he shuttered between five safe houses and fathered four children, at least two of whom were born in a government hospital, his youngest wife has told Pakistani investigators.
The testimony of Amal Ahmad Abdul Fateh, Osama's 30-year-old wife, offers the most detailed account yet of life on the run for the Osama family in the years preceding the American commando raid in May 2011 that killed the leader of al Qaida at the age of 54.
Her account is contained in a police report dated January 19 that, as an account of that frantic period, contains manifest flaws: Fateh's words are paraphrased by a police officer, and there is noticeably little detail about the Pakistanis who helped her husband evade his American pursuers.
Nevertheless, it raises more questions about how the world's most wanted man managed to shunt his family between cities that span the breadth of Pakistan, apparently undetected and unmolested by the otherwise formidable security services.
Osama's three widows are of great interest because they hold the answers to some of the questions that frustrated western intelligence in the years after 2001. They are currently under house arrest in Islamabad, and their lawyer says he expects them and two adult children — Osama's daughters Maryam, 21, and Sumaya, 20 — to be charged on Monday with breaking Pakistani immigration laws, which carries a possible five-year jail sentence.
The wives have cooperated with the authorities to varying degrees. Investigators say the older women, named in court documents as Kharia Hussain Sabir and Siham Sharif, both citizens of Saudi Arabia, have largely refused to cooperate with investigators.
However, Fateh, who was wounded in the raid that killed her husband, has spoken out.
The report, by a joint investigative panel made up of civilian and military officials, was first noted by the Pakistani newspaper Dawn yesterday; The New York Times later obtained a copy of the filing. In Washington, US officials said that while they could not confirm every detail of the report, it appeared generally consistent with what is known and believed about Osama's movements.
In the report's account, Fateh said she agreed to marry Osama in 2000 because "she had a desire of marrying a mujahid". She flew into Karachi in July that year and, months later, crossed into Afghanistan to join Osama and two other wives at his base on a farm outside Kandahar.
The September 11 attacks caused the Osama family to "scatter", the report said.
She returned to Karachi with her newborn daughter, Safia, where they stayed for about nine months. They changed houses up to seven times under arrangements brokered by "some Pakistani family" and Osama's elder son, Saad.
Other senior Qaida figures were also in Karachi, a sprawling city of up to 18 million people. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the architect of the September 11 attacks, claims to have personally killed the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl there during this period; he was captured at a house in Rawalpindi in March 2003.
Fateh said she left Karachi in the second half of 2002 for Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where she was reunited with her husband. The American pursuit of Osama was running high: Qaida operatives had attacked an Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya and nightclubs in Indonesia, and with CIA intelligence resources not yet diverted to Iraq, the search was firmly focused on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area.
Osama, according to his wife, took his family deep into rural mountain areas of northwest Pakistan — but not, notably, into the tribal belt where much western attention was focused. First they stayed in the Shangla district in Swat, a picturesque area about 128km northwest of the capital, Islamabad, where they stayed in two different houses for eight to nine months.
|NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE|