RAWALPINDI, Apr 27 – Osama bin Laden’s family were deported from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia Friday, officials said, nearly a year after the Al-Qaeda leader was killed in a US raid.
The 9/11 mastermind’s three widows and their children were detained by Pakistan after the Saudi was killed on May 2 last year in a secret US Navy SEAL operation in the garrison town of Abbottabad, north of Islamabad.
Washington and Islamabad are currently working to repair their relationship, which was badly damaged by the revelation that the world’s most wanted man was living a stone’s throw from Pakistan’s elite military academy.
Pakistani authorities have already demolished the Abbottabad house and with the one-year anniversary of bin Laden’s death just a few days away, they will be keen for the deportation to mark a definitive end to what has been an extremely embarrassing episode.
After being held for 10 months, the widows and two of bin Laden’s older daughters were sentenced by a Pakistani court to 45 days’ detention on charges of illegal entry and residency in the country and ordered to be deported.
Around midnight on Thursday a minibus collected the terror kingpin’s family from the Islamabad house where they had served the sentence, which was completed 10 days ago.
The family were believed to number 12 – three widows, eight children and one grandchild – though an interior ministry spokesman said orders were passed for the deportation of 14 bin Laden relatives.
They were taken to Islamabad airport to board a special flight to the Gulf kingdom which took off shortly before 2:00 am Friday (2100 GMT Thursday).
An interior ministry spokesman told AFP: “The plane has left for Saudi Arabia.”
The family were originally supposed to be deported after completing their sentence last week but the move dragged on — officially because legal formalities were not complete but amid suggestions the Saudis were reluctant to accept such a notorious group.
Then on Thursday, a Pakistani security official said “some development happened late in the evening” allowing them to be expelled.
The family’s lawyer Atif Ali Khan last week said bin Laden’s Yemeni widow Amal Abdulfattah and her five children could be sent to Yemen after Saudi Arabia.
Bin Laden’s discovery in Abbottabad dealt a huge blow to US-Pakistan relations and led to accusations of Pakistani complicity or incompetence.
After fleeing Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, bin Laden moved his family around Pakistan before settling in a three-storey house inside a walled compound in the garrison town in 2005.
President Barack Obama’s order to “go in and get Bin Laden” was made public Thursday, as recorded in a memo scribbled by then-CIA chief Leon Panetta shortly after the decision was made.
The succinct memo, published by Time magazine, was dated April 29, 2011, written by hand and signed by Panetta.
“The direction is to go in and get Bin Laden and if he is not there, to get out,” wrote Panetta, who is now secretary of defense.
“The approval is provided on the risk profile presented to the president,” he continued. “Any additional risks are to be brought to the president for his consideration.”
Obama had chosen the riskiest option – a secret helicopter assault by US special forces on the compound where bin Laden was believed to be hiding.
The bin Laden family’s prolonged detention after the raid fed speculation the Pakistani authorities were worried about what they might reveal about bin Laden’s time in the country – and how he was able to live there for so long undetected.
Abdulfattah, 30, bin Laden’s youngest and reportedly favourite wife, told Pakistani interrogators that her husband fathered four children while he hid out in Pakistan, according to a police report seen by AFP last month.