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Osama lived in 5 safe houses in Pak, says wife

Osama lived in 5 safe houses in Pak, says wife

Amal Fateh told investigators that bin Laden took his family deep into rural mountain areas of northwest Pak and not into the tribal belt where much of the Western attention was focused.

New York: In one of the most detailed accounts of Osama bin Laden's life on the run, his youngest wife has told Pakistani investigators that the al Qaeda leader lived in five safe houses as he travelled across Pakistan with his family for nine years following the 9/11 attacks.

The detailed account of bin Laden's life on the run has been given by his 30-year-old wife Amal Ahmad Abdul Fateh, and is contained in a police report dated January 19.

Bin Laden was 54 years old when he was killed last year by US Navy SEAL commandos in Pakistan's Abbottabad. According to the report, Fateh said she agreed to marry bin Laden in 2000 because "she had a desire of marrying a mujahid".

In July 2000, she came to Karachi and months later, crossed into Afghanistan to join her husband and his two other wives at his base on a farm outside Kandahar.

"The September 11 attacks caused the Bin Laden family to scatter," the New York Times reported. Fateh returned to Karachi with her newborn daughter Safia and stayed there for about nine months during which she shifted between seven houses arranged by "some Pakistani family" and bin Laden's elder son, Saad.

She then left Karachi in the second half of 2002 for Peshawar, where she was reunited with her husband.

At that time, the American pursuit of bin Laden was running high since Qaeda operatives had attacked an Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya and nightclubs in Indonesia.

The search was firmly focused on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border area.

Fateh told investigators that Bin Laden took his family deep into rural mountain areas of northwest Pakistan and not into the tribal belt where much of the Western attention was focused.

They first stayed in the Shangla district in Swat, about 80 miles northwest of Islamabad, living in two different houses for eight to nine months.

In 2003 they moved to Haripur, a small town closer to Islamabad, where they stayed in a rented house for two years. It was in Haripur that Fateh gave birth to a girl, Aasia, in 2003 and a boy, Ibrahim, in 2004 both of whom were delivered in a local government hospital.

The police report states that Fateh "stayed in hospital for a very short time of about 2-3 hours" on each occasion while a separate document states that she gave fake identity papers to hospital staff, the New York Times report said.

Finally in mid-2005 bin Laden and his family moved to Abbottabad, where she gave birth to two more children Zainab in 2006 and Hussain in 2008.

Fateh told investigators that the houses in Swat, Haripur and Abbottabad were organised by their Pashtun hosts, identified as two brothers named Ibrahim and Abrar, whose families stayed with them throughout.

Ibrahim is believed to refer to Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, a Pakistani-born Pashtun who grew up in Kuwait and who was known for a time to American intelligence as 'the courier', because he carried the Qaeda leader's messages.

During the raid by the Navy SEAL commandos, Fateh, who was in the same room as the Qaeda leader, was shot in the leg.

She survived but four others were killed in the raid: the courier, his wife Bushra, his brother Abrar, and bin Laden's 20-year-old son, Khalil.

Bin Laden's three widows are currently under house arrest in Islamabad and they along with two of his children face prosecution.

A cousin of Fateh's in Yemen has claimed that she was being held in a basement.

"Fateh's account, if proven, suggests that American military forces came tantalisingly close to Bin Laden in late 2005," the New York Times said. The police report that contains Fateh's account also has some 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," the paper said.

Bin Laden's three widows hold answers to some of the questions that frustrated Western intelligence in the years after 2001.

Currently under house arrest in Islamabad, they and two adult children bin Laden's daughters Maryam, 21, and Sumaya, 20, will be charged next week with breaking Pakistani immigration laws, which carries a possible five-year jail sentence.

Investigators say bin Laden's older wives, named in court documents as Kharia Hussain Sabir and Siham Sharif and both Saudi citizens, have largely refused to cooperate with them.

Fateh has, however, spoken out. In Washington, United States officials said that while they could not confirm every detail of the report, it appeared generally consistent with what is known and believed about Bin Laden's movements.

Pakistani analysts said that the decision to prosecute bin Laden's wives suggested that Pakistani intelligence may have hidden reasons for detaining the family.

"I think the government wants to hang on to them through a trial procedure so that the investigation can be completed," said Riffat Hussain, a defence analyst. "And I think the Americans are quite keen to have access to Osama's wives, too."

first published:March 30, 2012, 11:09 IST