Pakistan early Wednesday was scheduled to deport the 14 members of Osama bin Laden’s family who had lived with him in a garrison town near Islamabad until U.S. forces killed him in a raid in May 2011.
After nearly a year in the custody of Pakistan’s security services, the family — including the ex-al Qaida chief’s three widows, two adult daughters and nine children — were scheduled to leave Islamabad on a chartered plane bound for Saudi Arabia.
There, they will live incognito — and in relative luxury — with bin Laden’s extended family, said the family’s Pakistani lawyer, Aamir Khalil. They have not been charged with any offense by Saudi authorities and would not be detained, he said.
“They will live with the family, but under very tight restrictions (on movement) and security arrangements made by the kingdom’s authorities,” he said.
They won’t be allowed to talk to the media, and it was unclear whether U.S. officials who might want to interrogate the relatives would have access to them.
A Saudi diplomatic official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said his government had agreed to a request from Islamabad to prevent bin Laden’s two Saudi widows, Khairiah Sabar and Siham Sabar, from talking publicly about their lives in Pakistan.
Osama bin Laden’s half-brother, Bakr Bin Mohammed Binladin, who chairs Saudi Binladin, the biggest construction company in the oil-rich desert kingdom, will look after the 14 family members.
The company is family owned and does not publish its earnings, but it regularly is involved in multibillion-dollar construction projects. Its latest move is a $400 million investment that gives it a 16.6 percent stake in a Saudi developer, Jeddah Economic, which is building the half-mile-high Kingdom Tower.
The project, scheduled to be completed in 2017, is being led Al-Waleed bin Talal, the billionaire Saudi prince who offered to donate $10 million to help New York recover from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks perpetrated by al Qaida. Rudy Giuliani, the mayor, rebuffed him after bin Talal said that the attacks were the consequence of U.S. policies favoring Israel over the Palestinians.
Bin Laden’s youngest wife, Amal Ahmed Abdel-Fatah al Sada, a Yemeni national, and her five children will also remain in Saudi Arabia at the request of the Pakistani government and will be held under the same terms.
Saudi Arabia, along with China, is Pakistan’s closest diplomatic ally. With the departure of bin Laden’s family, Pakistan hopes to close an embarrassing chapter in its relationship with the United States. U.S. officials didn’t inform Pakistan that it was staging the raid on bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad on May 2, 2011, apparently because they feared the information would become public. Last month, Pakistan was further embarrassed by press leaks of a statement given to federal investigators by al Sada, who reportedly said that bin Laden and his family had lived in Pakistan since 2002 — not 2006, as previously thought.
Bin Laden had previously lived in the northern city of Peshawar and in the Swat Valley while local supporters built his residence in Abbottabad. In February, Pakistani authorities demolished the house in Abbottabad, eliminating the physical symbol of his presence in the country.
The family was deported on the orders of a Pakistani court, which on April 2 convicted the three widows and bin Laden’s two adult daughters on charges of illegally entering and residing in Pakistan. It sentenced them to 45 days imprisonment, the shortest possible sentence, but back-dated it to March 3, the day they were charged with the minor immigration offense.
State prosecutors had not pressed the more serious charges of aiding and abetting a terrorist, which could have led to jail sentences of up to seven years.
American requests for access to the three widows were rejected by the Pakistani government, which was infuriated that the U.S. had decided not to inform it of the raid on Abbottabad.
(Hussain is a McClatchy special correspondent.)