Agreeing to live in a cave and taking a bullet for your husband are surely the biggest gestures of love a woman can make. But these are just days in the life of the wife of Osama bin Laden who was America’s most wanted terrorist. Amal Ahmed Abdul Fatah – thought to be Bin Laden’s fifth and final wife – was shot in the calf when she charged at the Navy SEALs who stormed the room she had been living in with her husband for the last five years. As Pakistani authorities took hold of the woman and her young daughter Safiyah, they hoped that questioning her could provide intricate details into the life of America’s most hated enemy. The 24-year-old and her daughter are recovering in a military hospital in Rawalpindi and intelligence are trying to gage as much information from her as possible after she reportedly told them that she and her husband lived in the same room in the compound for the last five years.
They are also holding two of Bin Laden’s other wives and gleaning ‘valuable information’ from them. According to Time magazine, in 2002 Amal gave an interview to a Saudi woman’s magazine, al-Majalla, in which she explained that after the 9/11 attacks, she made her way to Yemen from Pakistan with the help of Pakistani officials. She also gave a glimpse into the life of a terror chief’s wife. She said: ‘When the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan started, we moved to a mountainous area with some children and lived in one of the caves for two months until one of his sons came with a group of tribesmen and took us with them. ‘I did not know that we were going to Pakistan until they handed us over to the Pakistani government.’
Time said that parts of this account were confirmed to them by an Arab woman – who did not want to be identified – who knew Bin Laden personally in Afganistan. Members of her family were also a part of Al Qaeda’s inner circle. When Amal was handed over at the age of 19, she and her daughter were allowed to fly home to a town close to the Yemen capital of Sanaa. It is not clear how she was able to rejoin her husband and it has raised questions about whether or not the CIA were watching her closely enough with claims that it could have led them to Bin Laden sooner. When asked in the interview if she would join her husband again in the future she said: ‘Let us see what happens.’
Although she leaped to her husband’s defence during the attack, an acquaintance of hers interviewed by Time remembers her as ‘shy and meek’ when she was first brought to Kandahar in 2000, where she stayed with Bin Laden’s other wives. The friend said of Amal – Bin Laden’s fifth wife: ‘She was new. She was out of place. The Sheikh’s other wives were much older than she was. So were many of his sons.’ The Al Qaeda leader’s first wife Saada was said to be furious that she married the son of a billionaire who preferred to live in a hut in Afghanistan rather than a palace at home. Being aware of her disillusionment, Bin Laden sent a trusted Yemeni aide Abual Fida to look for a new bride for him, one which he wanted to be ‘religious, generous, well-brought up, quiet, calm and young enough not to feel jealous of his other wives’. According to Time, Amal’s family considered it an honour that their teenage daughter were to marry the Taliban chief – who was already on the U.S. most-wanted list. He reportedly paid $5,000 in jewellery and clothes for her before she was brought to Afghanistan to marry him.
Now that Amal is in the custody of Pakistan’s intelligence service – as well as two other Bin Laden wives – it is unlikely that she will be released to U.S. officials or even allowed to be questioned by them. Asad Munir, a former commander in the Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI, told ABC News that the wives are facing non-violent interviews: ‘We give them a questionnaire, with 20 questions. We change the order of questions every three or four days. For telling lies you have to have very good memory. ‘There’s a way to find out. No one will tell you the first day the correct answer.’ A senior intelligence official told The Times that 17 people, including four women, were being held, and they have gleaned ‘valuable information’ from them.
The wives’ accounts will help show how Bin Laden spent his time and how he managed to avoid capture, living in a large house close to a military academy in a garrison town, a two-and-a-half hours’ drive from the capital Islamabad. Given changing and incomplete accounts from U.S. officials about what happened during the raid, the women’s evidence may also be helpful in unveiling details about the operation.
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