, PAKISTAN, March 9 — Osama bin Laden spent his last days sidelined by Al-Qaeda and slipping into dementia, possibly betrayed to the Americans by a jealous wife and his own deputy, a Pakistani investigator says.
Retired brigadier Shaukat Qadir says he spent eight months investigating the Al-Qaeda chief’s life in Pakistan, using his army connections to visit the villa where he lived and died, and securing access to confidential documents.
He says he spoke to Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agents who interrogated bin Laden’s wives and saw their interview transcripts, all thanks to a close relationship with Pakistan’s army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani.
He has no evidence, but offers a tantalising image of a frail man resigned to death and betrayed through one of his wives in an Al-Qaeda plot — which if true would shed new light on the demise of the world’s most-wanted man.
“Al-Qaeda decided to retire him in 2003. He was going mentally senile. From 2001, he had some kind of degenerative disease and was coming up with fantasies,” Qadir said.
He says his theories are his alone, but admits he may have been manipulated by the army and acknowledges that his account suits the ISI, which is still fending off suspicions of incompetence or complicity in sheltering bin Laden.
Pakistan was humiliated by the covert American operation that killed the Al-Qaeda leader in the early hours of May 2, practically on the doorstep of the country’s elite military academy in Abbottabad where he lived for five years.
Bulldozers moved in to demolish the compound under the cover of darkness on February 25, which observers took as a sign that Pakistani authorities want to consign the physical evidence of their embarrassment to oblivion.
Qadir says his investigation took him to the lawless tribal belt on the Afghan border, Al-Qaeda’s chief sanctuary for the past 10 years, where he served during his time in the army before his retirement in 1998.
Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian doctor often considered the real brains behind Al-Qaeda, “got fed up and decided to sideline” bin Laden when the leader started losing his mental faculties after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Qadir says bin Laden moved frequently between hiding places in northwest Pakistan before Al-Qaeda decided Abbottabad was the perfect spot and built a home shielded by a towering wall for him, two of his wives and their children.
Bin Laden moved into a bedroom on the third floor with his youngest and reputedly favourite wife, Amal Abdulfattah, the Yemeni he married in 1999 and who gave birth to two children in Abbottabad.
For years, Qadir believes, the family got on well, but things changed in March 2011 when bin Laden’s older Saudi wife, Khairia, suddenly turned up for the first time since the family was separated in late 2001.
At that time, she had fled Afghanistan into Iran, rather than into Pakistan with the rest of the family.
Qadir says the Iranians released her in late 2010 and she returned to her husband, but first, spent several months in an Al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan.
Two months after she arrived, the Americans raided the house. Qadir is convinced that Khairia betrayed her husband.
“Everything began to happen when Khairia arrived,” he said. “Everybody had a problem with her. Before, the two other wives were living comfortably.”
Bin Laden’s grown-up son, Khalid, born to another Saudi wife, was also suspicious, Qadir said.
“He kept on asking her ‘why have you come? What do you want from him?’ She just responded ‘I have one more duty to perform for my husband’.
“Khalid told his dad: ‘I suspect she’s going to betray you.’ Bin Laden answered ‘so be it’.”
Bin Laden tried to persuade the other wives to leave for their own safety, but they refused, Qadir said.
The United States says it was tipped off much earlier by an Al-Qaeda courier. But Qadir contradicts that, stating that Zawahiri may have used Khairia as bait for the Americans.
The Americans managed to intercept one of Khairia’s phone calls, leading them to believe bin Laden was in the compound, he thinks, adding that Bin Laden’s long-serving Egyptian deputy was consumed by personal ambition.