Pakistan still holding bin Laden family months after raid

McClatchy NewspapersFebruary 14, 2012 

ISLAMABAD — The family of Osama bin Laden's youngest wife has asked the chief justice of Pakistan to order authorities to release her children and her and allow them to return to Yemen, nine months after the U.S. special forces raid that killed the al Qaida founder.

Zakaria Ahmad al Sadah, brother of Amal al Sadah, bin Laden's Yemeni wife, said in an interview that he'd appealed directly to the activist chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, as a "last resort" after spending three fruitless months in Pakistan seeking her release.

Sadah said his sister's five children were in poor mental health and had received no schooling since they were taken into custody after the raid May 2. He also said that a gunshot wound his sister had suffered in her knee during the raid hadn't been treated properly and that she still couldn't walk. A Navy SEAL shot her as she apparently tried to shield bin Laden.

The U.S. raiding party took bin Laden's body from the hideout in Abbottabad but left behind Amal al Sadah and her children, as well as two other wives and four other children, who Zakaria Ahmad al Sadah said were bin Laden's grandchildren.

The petition comes as Pakistan's Supreme Court and its chief justice have inserted themselves into several controversial cases, including successfully ordering the military's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, the nation's premier spy agency, to produce seven prisoners this week whom the agency had been holding secretly.

"I put between your hand the issue of Osama bin Laden's family (children and women) who passed upon their illegal disappearance in Pakistan more than eight months with Pakistani authorities despite they are innocent, and which consider against all the human rights and justice laws in the world," Sadah's written appeal reads in broken English.

"This enforced disappearance deteriorated the children health and their psychological trauma due to their Abbottabad event," the petition says.

Sadah lodged the two-page petition with the Supreme Court last Thursday. A 24-year-old student at the University of Sanaa in Yemen's capital, he said he'd been allowed to meet with his sister and the children about 10 times since he'd arrived in Pakistan on Nov. 1.

Sadah said that his sister, her children and the other wives and children were being kept under de facto house arrest in a small Islamabad apartment that was sparsely furnished and had little or no natural light. He said Pakistani security personnel guarded the apartment. He declined to disclose its precise location.

He said the children were so traumatized that "I had to teach them how to smile."

His sister, who's now 31, married bin Laden in or around the year 2000. Their oldest child, Safiya, aged around 12, reportedly was cradling her wounded mother when Pakistani officials reached the compound in Abbottabad just after U.S. forces had left.

Sadah identified his sister's other children as Ibrahim, about 8, Asia, around 7, Zainab, around 5, and Hussain, around 3.

Throughout his jihadist career, bin Laden kept his family with him. The two youngest are thought to have been born in the Abbottabad house. Safiya was conceived when they lived in Afghanistan before the 9-11 attacks. It's unclear where Ibrahim and Asia would have been conceived.

"These are innocent children, totally innocent. These are becoming psycho," Sadah said. "Their psychological problems are getting worse and worse."

"For the last nine months, they have not seen the sun. They are just being kept alive."

The two other bin Laden wives held in the apartment are Khairiah, aged around 62, and Siham, around 54, both Saudis who'd also lived in Abbottabad with him, along with four of his grandchildren.

The U.S. raid on the bin Laden compound killed one adult son, Khalid, who was Siham's oldest child, aged around 22. The bin Laden grandchildren are likely to be his offspring.

The official Pakistani commission that formed to investigate bin Laden's presence in the country interviewed his wives and called last October for them to be sent back to their home countries.

Sadah said he'd traveled to Pakistan in November after the authorities had assured him that he'd be able to take his sister home on Nov. 2. For the last month, he's been stopped from seeing her children and her, he said.

"I went to the Supreme Court because I know that Iftikhar Chaudhry is a very just person. I had heard about him even in Yemen," Sadah said. "I have a lot of trust in Iftikhar Chaudhry."

The Supreme Court hasn't commented on the petition.

Going to the court could, however, anger the officials who are holding the bin Laden family members.

Sadah said the repatriation awaited only the signature of Interior Minister Rehman Malik. However, it's likely that the ISI is holding the family members and that the decision on their release isn't in the hands of the interior minister, who didn't return calls seeking comment Tuesday.

There's no evidence that any of the wives of bin Laden, who married six times and fathered at least 21 children, were involved in al Qaida. Sadah said his sister was a "housewife" who spent her married life only raising their children.

Yemeni authorities have supported the Sadah family in trying to get Amal al Sadah released from Pakistan. The Saudi regime, which exercises huge influence over the Pakistani government and military, doesn't seem keen to have the Saudi women back, however.

(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

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