By Qasim Nauman, Reuters
ISLAMABAD– The family of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, killed almost a year ago by American special forces in a military town in northwest Pakistan, left Pakistan for Saudi Arabia early on Friday morning, the family lawyer told Reuters.
The move ends months of speculation about the fate of the three widows and 11 children, who were detained by Pakistani security forces after the May 2 raid.
“Yes, they’re being deported to Saudi Arabia,” said Aamir Khalil, the family lawyer. “It is a special flight.”
Once outside Pakistan, the family could reveal details about how the world’s most wanted man was able to hide in Pakistan for years, possibly assisted by elements of its powerful military and spy agency.
Any revelations about ties to bin Laden could embarrass Pakistan and anger Washington, which had been hunting bin Laden since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
The plane took off at around 1:30 a.m. (2030 GMT) for Saudi Arabia, according to local TV channels. Yemen’s ambassador to Islamabad said the family was heading to Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea city of Jeddah.
“The plane carrying Amal and (her brother) Zakariya al-Sadeh and the rest of the family are heading to Jeddah,” Ambassador Abdo Ali Abdulrahman told Reuters by telephone early on Friday. “This chapter that has continued for a year is now closed,” he added.
At the house in Islamabad where the family were being held, a white minivan pulled up to take them to the airport. The women refused to enter the van with a crush of media around it, so officials covered its windows with plastic sheets.
The Ministry of the Interior, which was responsible for the family, issued a statement saying it had “passed orders for the deportation of 14 members of OBL family in pursuance of the Court orders.”
“The family was kept safe and sound in a guest house … They have been deported to the country of their choice, Saudi Arabia, today,” it added.
Apart from the three widows, the deportees included seven children and four grandchildren.
Earlier this month, a court sentenced the women to 45 days in prison for entering Pakistan illegally. It ordered their deportation after the end of the prison term, which began on March 3 when they were formally arrested.
Pakistani officials describe bin Laden’s long presence in the hill-town of Abbottabad as a security lapse and reject suggestions that members of the military and intelligence service were complicit in hiding him there.