ISLAMABAD – Osama bin Laden’s three widows and their nine children are expected to be deported from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, after their scheduled departure the previous day was delayed for bureaucratic reasons, their lawyer said.
The family was detained by Pakistani authorities last May after U.S. Navy SEALs raided the compound in northwest Pakistan where the al-Qaida chief was hiding and killed him. The American commandos left bin Laden’s relatives behind but took his body, which they later buried at sea.
Pakistan interrogated the family members and eventually charged the widows and two adult daughters last month with illegally entering and living in the country. The five women were convicted at the beginning of April and sentenced to 45 days in prison, with credit for about a month served.
Their prison term, which was spent at a well-guarded house in Islamabad, ended Tuesday. They were scheduled to be deported to Saudi Arabia around midnight but were held up for bureaucratic reasons, said their lawyer, Mohammad Amir Khalil.
The five women also had outstanding fines of about $110 each, which had not been fully paid. This has now been done, said Khalil.
Also, the brother of bin Laden’s Yemeni wife Amal Ahmed Abdel-Fatah al-Sada was not in possession of his passport when they tried to leave Tuesday because it was being held by a Pakistani court, said Khalil.
Zakaria al-Sada traveled to Pakistan from Yemen to campaign for his sister’s release. The two other widows are from Saudi Arabia.
Khalil said Zakaria al-Sada’s passport was expected to be released in time for them to leave for Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.
It was unclear why al-Sada was not being sent to Yemen. Khalil said earlier that the Yemeni government had consented to her return, and her brother had said the government had issued her five children passports.
Pakistani officials have said very little publicly about the family, raising questions about why they were kept in detention for so long.
Some speculated Pakistan was worried information from the widows would point to some level of official assistance in hiding bin Laden. The compound in the town of Abbottabad where he lived for six years and was killed by U.S. commandos was about a kilometer (half a mile) from one of Pakistan’s main military academies.
The Pakistani government has denied knowing the terrorist leader’s whereabouts, and the U.S. has said it has no evidence senior Pakistani officials knew he was in Abbottabad.
But details leaked to the media from the interrogation of al-Sada, bin Laden’s youngest wife, raised further questions about how he was able to live in the country unnoticed for so long.
Al-Sada said the al-Qaida chief lived in five houses while on the run in Pakistan for nine years and fathered four children, two of whom were born in Pakistani government hospitals.
It’s also possible that one of the reasons Pakistan kept bin Laden’s family in detention for so long was the difficulty of figuring out where to send them.
Saudi Arabia stripped bin Laden of his citizenship in 1994 because of his verbal attacks against the Saudi royal family, and there have been questions about whether the country would accept the women. That issue seems to have been resolved, though Saudi officials have declined to comment.
The family’s departure could help Pakistan close a painful chapter in the country’s history. Pakistani officials were outraged that the U.S. did not tell them about the operation against bin Laden until after it happened – a decision American officials explained by saying they were worried the information would be leaked.
In addition to facing difficult questions about how bin Laden was able to hide in the country for so long, Pakistan’s army suffered unusual domestic criticism because it was unable to stop the American raid from taking place.
Associated Press writer Chris Brummitt contributed to this report.