In the days after 9/11, “the worlds” most wanted human receded to Afghanistan. What happened to his wives and children?
n 10 September 2001, O Osama bin Ladens wives were was necessary to carry one case each. No one “ve said” why, exclusively that their partner wanted to move them and his youngest babes away from Kandahar. His older sons were to join their father-god and other brothers at an undisclosed site. The only boy left behind was nine-year-old Ladin, a hesitant juvenile who flinched at the phone of gunfire. He, the women and other children entered on to a corroding Soviet-era bus slandered with silt, providing off on a grease move parallel to the Silk Road.
When the engine stops, you get off, Osama told them.
Three uncomfortable weeks later, they careened to a halting on the outskirts of Jalalabad, a city in the north-east of Afghanistan, next to a dun-coloured castle surrounded by 4m-high silt walls and crowned with protect castles. The castle was a barracks for the al-Qaida training camp located at a nearby hamlet, and Osama had grandiosely listed it Najm al-Jihad, the Star of the Holy War. Circumvented by adobe shanties set into a lunar countryside, it was dubbed Star Wars by Osamas third son, Saad. Discarded ammunition chests, meat box and empty bottles of compounds lay everywhere. Khairiah, the family matriarch, organised a clean-up.
The ladies pinned up woollen rugs as insulation and plumped thin foam mattresses with old drapes, scrutinizing the pillow for scorpions and serpents. Narrow alleys that connected the accommodations to a tin toilet outhouse were swilled out, and in the rudimentary kitchen issues person determined the ocean spout and got an old generator racing. The ladies would cook on a traditional Afghan bukhar( open stave ); the three harbour mothers were to have the best pickings. Osamas 14 -year-old daughter Khadija has only imparted delivery. Two years earlier, she had been married in a double bridal with her 12 -year-old half-sister Fatima. Their partners, two Saudi brothers in their 30 s who both had wives and children previously, were mujahideen fighters. Saad bin Ladens wife, Wafa, too had a baby, as did Osamas youngest wife, Amal.
Osamas wives, whose theological conservatism entailed they are not able to speak to the male police, dissected every scrap of story they overheard about
9/ 11, which had has just taken place while they were on the road. In recent months, Kandahar had been awash with rumors about something “ve called the” Planes Operation, but no one outside Osamas tight-knit core group knew any details.
Without any adult male relateds to protect them, exclusively al-Qaida police who could not enter the same office, the wives had been instructed by Osama to blow themselves up if developments in the situation became all-important. Even nine-year-old Ladin had a role. He was to lie on his back, staring up into the sky, scouting for enemy flows, as combat with America now appeared inevitable.
At night they squatted under a blanket with a Kalashnikov and a stockpile of grenades, doubting what would befall those friends and family left behind in the cities, and when they would next experience their partner and sons.
Until recently, Osamas wives had lived with their partner in adjoining concrete shanties at Tarnak Qila, an ancient castle in the wilderness south-west of Kandahar airport. Through interviews with family members who wanted to remain anonymous, and senior members of al-Qaida who have never communicate before, we were able to build a picture of the life they lived there, as well as in the months and years after 9/11. At Tarnak Qila, the wives shared a cordoned-off garden that they turned into a small apportioning and where they reared rabbits and chickens. Sometimes, when the combination empty-headed of men, they had met there to unveil their faces, while the children recollect contending over a battered Nintendo or checking their parents transistor for grabs of
But lately there had been dissonance. Countless al-Qaida members had evidenced the screaming rows Osama had with Omar, the youthful son he had been studying as his heir, who bore a spectacular similarity to his father. Omar had never shared his fathers infatuation with combat, and after he learned of his fathers seeing Planes Operation, he became determined to leave. He had gone to his mother, Najwa, asserting with her to come with him. But “shes never” disobeyed her husband, so Omar had passed away alone.[ My parents] vicious route had differentiated us for ever, he afterwards recalled.
But by the end of August 2001, Najwa had a change of centre. With Omars statements playing on her sentiment, she asked to return to her mothers in Syria an surprising behave of dissent from a woman who had lodged by her husbands area for 26 years and imparted him 11 children.
Son Omar with his wife Zaina.
Najwa had never intended to be a jihadi bride. Glamorous and beautiful, she was a Ghanem, from an old, cultured Syrian genealogy, and had grown up in the cosmopolitan beach resort of Latakia, where women wore bikinis. “Shes had” married Osama in 1974, when she had just moved 16 and he was still forging a honour as a villain soccer actor at his university, and for driving quick gondolas recklessly. “Shes had” been charmed by this doe-eyed son, the 17 th son of one of Saudi Arabias richest followers, and too her cousin. Arriving as Osamas young wife in Jeddah, she had reluctantly donned a chador and niqab, but underneath the black folds still wore lipstick and designer clothes.
Over its first year, Osamas involves had worn her down. His brothers wives recollect her as downcast, drab and permanently pregnant.[ She] seemed almost completely invisible, replies Carmen bin Laden, the former wife of Osamas half-brother Yeslam.
But Najwa never felt she would end up in a shanty in Kandahar, wearing an
Afghan burqa, cooking on a one-eyed camping burner and plugging the missile defects in her shack with fresh woolen to keep out the acrimonious hurricane. I never stopped praying that everything in “the worlds” would be nonviolent, she read afterwards, and that our lives might return to normal.
Son Saad, who was killed by a droning in Pakistan in 2009.
It wasnt simply the Planes Operation that has at last persuaded Najwa to leave. There was also the question of her husbands new wife. Osama had taken other wives before. His second had not watched eye to eye with Najwa, and she and Osama afterwards divorced. But the third, Khairiah
, had been Najwas suggestion. Some of Najwas sons had been born with developmental problems maybe aggravated by the fact that their parents were first cousins. Two had hydrocephalus( ocean on the brain ), and her third son, Saad, was autistic. But Osama refused conventional therapy for them, preferring to framed his demise in desert remedies and the entrusts of God.
Najwa had sought help for her sons at a clinic in Jeddah, where she satisfied Khairiah, small children psychologist, seven years older than Osama. Osama wanted to have as many children as possible for Islam and Najwa intimated Khairiah could help him achieve these objectives, as well as assist with their sons education. Osama judged that she was perfect: the Prophet had decreed that followers should wed unmarriageable ladies to enable them to share the elation of motherhood.
Khairiah eventually bore Osama a son, Hamzah, who went on to acquire his fathers theological fervors, while she forged a character as the extended family matriarch. It was in her office in Kandahar that everyone gathered to resolve disputes and discuss impending changes, or to lobby for an extra sacking of rice, basic remedy or schoolbooks.
Osamas youngest wife, Amal.
Unlike Najwa, Khairiah was holy, and had married Osama in 1985, when he was already well on the road leading to jihad. Osamas fourth wife, Seham, was also deeply theological, claiming drop-off from the Prophet and nursing a PhD from Medina University. She had worked as a schoolteacher before she married Osama, in 1987, at which point she too designated herself the job of having as many children as she could. Before 9/11, Sehams hut in Kandahar had been the family classroom, complete with slates, chalk and secondhand exam papers purchased in the bazaar. The babes recollect how Osama would rarely end, deporting impromptu maths and English assessments, with “their childrens” lined up in order of size.
Osama expected all “their childrens” to play their part in jihad. Rather than celebrating birthdays, the sons were videotaped brandishing weapons or seeing the scenes of battle. Daughters were married at the onset of adolescence to mujahideen fighters twice their senility, to expand al-Qaidas sphere of influence.
Only Najwa fought to soften the childrens world and the latter are drew attention to her, anxiou for the gives she procured, peculiarly her radio on which they recollect listening to American popping, and feeing her improvised spaghetti bolognese tomato puree mixed with a container of Maggi noodles.
So it was Osamas decision to marry a Yemeni teenager, 18 -year-old Amal al-Sadeh, in June 2000, that converted an unconventional genealogy into a dysfunctional one. Abruptly before 9/11, Amal granted delivery to a daughter and Najwa ambled out, taking her youngest children and one adult son whose disabilities determined him dependent on her. As they drove away, headed for Syria, Najwa turned to see the rest of her family enclose in the dust.
My mothers centre violated into little patches watching the silhouettes of my little children fade into the interval, she read afterwards. Khairiah and Seham bided, but solidifies out Amal.
Then grew 9/11, trumping every other concern.
Osama bin Ladens family tree
Bombs were precipitating all over Jalalabad in November 2001, when
Osama bin Laden accidentally arrived at the womens castle with his sons. Seham and Khairiah were joyous, mumbling prayers and thanks to the Prophet. But this was not a hover reunion. Osama urged them to carry instantly. US thrusts and their Afghan collaborators were advancing, so he was heading for his olive raise in Melawa Valley, the gateway to Tora Bora, his base in the high-pitched ridges of north-eastern Afghanistan. Alone his sons Othman and Mohammed would remain with him. Hamzah, Khalid and Ladin would be expected to take care of the women and youngest babes; as the oldest male family member, fucking brother Saad would nominally lead the fleet, which too consisted of in-laws and grandchildren.
Osama started, demonstrating each of his sons a cord of prayer beads and to ask them to abide strong and genuine to Islam. He left behind suitcases containing drapes and golden coppers. Garmented in tribal attires, his family would travel through the darknes and is making an effort to cross into Pakistan at a remote checkpoint, utilizing documents provided by the Sudanese powers during the time they lived there in the 90 s. Their old Saudi passports were shut in brown envelopes and hidden away.
By December 2001, combat with America was storming across Afghanistan, and Osama was missing, last watched facing off a
fierce US aerial assault at Tora Bora. America was determined to dismantle al-Qaida and withdraw existing Taliban from influence, and anyone connected to Osama or his shift was a target. Osamas family, together with hundreds of fighters , had reached Pakistan, but it was no longer a safe haven: Pakistan has only signed up as a critical partner in President Bushs war against terrorism. Al-Qaida desperately needed to find another bolthole, one that was secure and accessible.
The family had narrowly endured an ambush at the Pakistan border, and reached Karachi, where
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11, appreciated them. But “hes not” very interested in has become a chaperone. Emboldened by success, he was already hectic scheming his next fantastic. He elapsed the babysitting errand to the remains of al-Qaidas parliament, or shura, and in particular a Mauritanian theological academic called Mahfouz Ibn El Waleed, Osamas spiritual adviser and close friend.
Son Hamzahs Saudi passport.
Mahfouz pondered with my honourable colleagues for days what to do with Osamas family. CIA negotiators were shutting in everywhere. US helicopters controlled along the Pakistan border. He needed to escort his indicts to somewhere that was completely off limits to America. They were among the worlds most wanted, and relatively easy to spot: towering, fine-boned Arabs, various of whom closely resembled Osama, and who spoke no local languages.
In the end, they reached an unlikely judgment: send the wives and children of Osama bin Laden, leader of an outlawed Sunni militia, to seek asylum in Iran, the centre of Shia power.
Choosing to trust Iran showed, on the surface, a irresponsible design. The regime was unpredictable, mercenary and self-serving. But his delegation shared territories with Pakistan and Afghanistan, and had had no diplomatic relations with the US since
the revolution of 1979. Tehran was also renowned for backing causes that antagonised its sworn opponents, America and Israel; in fact, there was a secret biography of contact between Tehran and al-Qaida. Granting al-Qaida sanctuary in these uncertain times could strengthen Irans regional outlook and potentially shield it from future terror attacks.
In January 2002, George w. bush included Tehran in his
axis of evil. After this, Irans secretive Quds force, a undercover segment of the countrys Revolutionary Guard, led by Major General Qassem Suleimani, went out of their course to abet al-Qaida. They set up a refugee camp in the no people shore simply beyond the Iranian mete with Afghanistan. Hundreds of families arrived in buses and beaten-up taxis, on foot, or by pony. Taliban police prohibited the way to foreign aid employees, reporters and any other unwanted visitors, while smartly-dressed officials escorted confirmed families to Tehran.
Osamas children and grandchildren in Abbottabad.
Among the al-Qaida families to arrive were Khairiah and a group of Osamas children; Seham and their own children had elected to stay behind in Pakistan. In Iran, the latter are provide guidance to Saif al-Adel, al-Qaidas military commander, to a remote raise east of Zabol.
Saad, a creature of habit who found every small change in his routine alarming, nervously asked their usher about safety issues. He wanted to go home to his grandmother, Osamas mother Allia, who lived in the exclusive Bin Laden family compound in Jeddah. But Saif prompted Saad that their Saudi citizenship had been invalidated long ago, and that Riyadhs proximity to the Bush administration ruled out any rapprochement. Then person intimated jaunting overland to Turkey and intersecting into Syria. But, Saif pointed out, according to reports in the Arab press,
President Bashar al-Assads intelligence agencies had been cooperating with the US. Saif advised everyone to stay where they were and keep their abilities down, which entailed no phone calls.
The advice was of no comfort to Hamzah, who still carried the cord of prayer beads his father “ve been given” him in the olive plantations of Melawa, a moment so pain that he afterwards wrote about it in a letter, “says hes” remembered every smile that my father smiled at me, every utterance that he spoke to me and every inspection that he gave me.
When Saif made it clear to the family that he was directly in contact with Osama, Hamzah wrote him a letter, later released by al-Qaida. Born into jihad, Hamzah had never known peace. Now that he was in Iran, he could see no future. Tell me, Father, something beneficial about what I experience, he pleaded in 2002. What has happened to us?
Son Khalid, who was killed with his father in 2011.
A few a few weeks later, Osama, though in hiding and on the run, replied: Satisfy it indicated that I am full of affliction and sighs. Reprieve me, my son, but I can only experience a terribly steep route onward. He had a word for all the family: even though they had reached Iran, they continued to not safe. Security has run, but danger remains.
Shortly afterwards, a brutal roundup started in Iran. Osamas family, Saif al-Adel, Mahfouz and other al-Qaida commanders were seized by Iranian authority negotiators and secretly transported to the central Quds force practice facility in Tehran. Pinpointed close to
the former Shahs Sadabad Palace, in the far northward of the city, the site was officially “ve called the” Imam Ali University for Army Officers. They were housed in concrete barracks with box-like cadres racing along a center aisle. Outside was an alley and garden, facing 6ft-high walls transcended with razor cable. Restorations and fixings were ongoing, hinting hasty decisions had been taken to contain them. Block 100, as the Iranians called it, was windowless, with exclusively restricted ducts beneath the eaves drawing in fresh air. Perhaps this is the place where Iran is hiding its nuclear bombs, Mahfouz retains one of the advents remarking.
As dates turned into weeks, the Bin Ladens paranoia stretched. Their suspicions were well founded: the civilian authority in Tehran had caught hurricane of the secret al-Qaida migration and now trumped the freewheeling Major General Suleimani by offering prisoners to Washington DC in exchange for diplomatic identification and an easing of sanctions. The only act get in accordance with the rules was
President Bush and Dick Cheneys infatuation with falling Saddam Hussein. Focused on an Iraqi invasion, having hyped Baghdad as al-Qaidas instructor, the White House spurned Tehrans overture and with it the chance to incarcerate the military and spiritual an officer of al-Qaida, as well as Osamas family. Had they accepted, al-Qaida would have been critically weakened.
From Kandahar to Tehran, with collaborators and opponents: the flight of the Bin Ladens, 2001 -9
By 2007, Osamas family in Iran had expanded, with birth certificates of various grandchildren, and they had been being transferred to another building in the complex, this one called Block 300. Frictions with their hosts, terrifying meat and unhealthy maladies had taken their toll. Saad, 28, was by now the father-god of three children, a son listed Osama and two little girls. A few months earlier his wife, Wafa, had had another son who died because the Iranians had refused a hospital trip. Another shura members wife had also expired for hanker of medical treatment; Khairiah digested excruciating dental both problems and ambled with a cane.
As frictions reached breaking point, Mahfouz, who lived with the family, fought for franchises.
Family radicals were taken out on day trips by Iranian bodyguards to visit famous landmarks in Tehran, where they combined with American tourists. Formerly or twice Osamas sons and the shura members were taken to a boasts complex in Elahieh. Saif al-Adel, who had a$ 5m reward on his head in the west, swam lanes alongside foreign diplomats.
A temporary rapprochement was reached during Ramadan in October 2007, when the Iranians made al-Qaida out for the purposes of an iftar( transgressing the quickly) banquet at a five-star restaurant in downtown Tehran. Osamas sons reciprocated by inviting the officials to dine with them in the combination. The following Friday, a gondola been able to reach Block 300 to pick them up, before hurrying toward Tehran University. Osamas sons were was welcomed by officials who led them through security rights gates and around the back of a covered devotion hall into a small waiting time carpeted with devotion mats.
A roar rose up outside as a TV on the wall focused on sequences of devotees, intellectuals, clerics and officials standing for the supreme leader,
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The sons of Osama bin Laden were in a private office behind the Ayatollahs pulpit, his personal patrons at Friday prayers “thats been” being broadcast around the world on Irans Press TV. A human gestured from the door, and the uneasy young men got to their paws, transfixed by the rising clamor of voices exclaiming out, Marg Bar Amrika death to America.
The following springtime, relations between the al-Qaida patrons and their Iranian hosts soured again. This time the source of the problem was
Suleiman Abu Ghaith, a portly Kuwaiti preacher whom Osama had controlled into becoming his spokesperson after 9/11; he was also married to Osamas eldest daughter Fatima. As a result, Abu Ghaith had lost his Kuwaiti nationality and , now in custody, he went on a hunger strike, spending his waking hours writing what he described as his volume of regrets, an resentful rebuff of Osamas jihad.
Abu Ghaiths mania eventually began the Iranians to snarl. But when the guards tried to manhandle him, a full-blown prison rampage exploded. Egyptian and Libyan al-Qaida brothers ripped up membranes and shattered wooden bunks, providing shells, hurling petrol bombs fixed with secretly stockpiled heating ga and daubing anti-Shia letters on the walls. Mahfouz retains watching as Osamas grandsons pelted police with stones. We have been illegally kidnapped and buried in this secret prison, they roared, throbbing the wall. Our ongoing incarceration vanishes against international law. They “d rather” be prosecuted than remain in this living cemetery, they said.
The Star of the Holy War castle in Jalalabad, to which Osama bin Laden moved his family in September 2001.
Hamzah swore to sign up for the jihad. His mom, Khairiah, swore she would return to her husbands side. Meanwhile, Osamas 17 -year-old daughter Iman wished to go to her mom, Najwa, in Syria. However, first someone had to flee to create alarm systems. Everyone paused. Despite the tough talking, they had all become terrible of the outside world.
Soon after, Fatima became aware that Khadija, her favourite sister, had died in Waziristan giving birth to twinneds. One baby was also dead; the other, a girl, was critically ill. Fatima was devastated. Deep depression decided over the family compound.
In May 2008, Iranian officials arrived on a detente duty, carrying chests of sweeteneds and cakes. Saad bin Laden recognized that the entrance had been left open and, wording tight in Arabic, he succession his nephews and nieces to make a run for it. They rushed out toward the entrance, astonishing the Quds force police, who stood down , not wanting to fire on children. Soon the latter are joined by their mothers, who sat down by the central entrance, through which they could see members of the public strolling by.
We want freedom, we want human rights, Mahfouz retains the status of women singing, remaining immovable for the next 36 hours. Challenged with a top-secret cache of al-Qaida captives exclaiming out of providing assistance, Major General Suleimani referred in ice-creams for the children and a lavish banquet for the adults, helped out on the gravel. But no one capitulated. Irked, the Iranians eventually referred soldiers garmented in black overalls and ski masks to beat their own families back into Block 300.
Days afterwards, Osamas family was contributes 24 hours notice to compress. Since the Iranians could no longer control their al-Qaida patrons, the family was moving. They were driven into the countrys center desert, to the historic municipality of Yazd. Their new home was a sand-coloured villa surrounded by a low-toned mud-brick wall.
The Iranian bodyguards made chambers closest to the central entrance. There would be no tours out, they said. Such privileges had been lost. But as the family members wandered around, one thing impressed them: there were no security cameras at the rear. Hamzah volunteered to hop-skip over the back wall. Khairiah vetoed it. At 19, he was too young. Besides, his wife, Asma, had just imparted delivery to a daughter. Saad, the eldest son present, said he would do it. His siblings shook their abilities in skepticism he would never subsist. But that night, Saad plunged over the wall into the desert darknes. He was determined to find his father in Pakistan and then extricate them all.
Son Hamzah, this year nominated a global terrorist by the US.
After Saads escape was discovered, Osamas family were ferried back to Tehran, where they found a new kind of prison waiting for them at the very heart of the Quds force complex. It consisted of purpose-built accommodations for every family, a school, mosque, football move, even a swimming pool. As a prank, they referred to it as the Tourist Complex. But with towering walls and action censors, it was a most modern prison and from their chambers they could hear Quds force recruits training.
At the end of the first month, some of Osamas sons were offered their first telephone call. Whisked to the Afghan border and given a Thuraya satellite phone a site and device that were intended to fluster American spies the latter are ordered to say nothing about their accurate site. They reached Omar bin Laden, Osamas son who had left Afghanistan before 9/11 and was now living in Qatar with his British wife Zaina. Over its first year, Omar and his mother, Najwa, had written to the International Red Cross and the United Nations in search of their family. Now, dazed, they got a call from the desert. Omar promised to help.
The phone party returned to Tehran, their spirits buoyed. But then grew story from Pakistan. Saad bin Laden was dead killed in a droning impres in Waziristan. That night, Osamas agonizing sons met. They had persuaded each other that Saad had been reunited with their father-god, and now they felt hopeless.
On 21 November 2009, Mahfouz was penetrating into his late darknes Quranic reading when he heard a knock at the door. He opened it to find Iman, Osamas daughter , now 18, requesting to see his daughter Khadija, her best friend. When they were alone, Iman took off a golden resound and entrust it to her. This was a gift from my father but now its yours, Iman read, explaining that something was about to happen that would affected the combination like an earthquake.
The following morning, the al-Qaida ladies gathered in the garden for a special Eid shopping trip. Iman was newsy, and she and Khadija sat together on the bus that made them to
Shahrvand, a western-style supermarket on Argentine Square, hosted with diplomats.
While Khairiah and Fatima bin Laden filled their trolleys, with excited young children trailing behind, challenging sweeteneds, Iman plucked Khadija into the toy section. Werent they too old for this, Khadija asked? Iman grabbed a lifesize baby doll and made out some drapes she had wrested off a rack elsewhere in the supermarket. Khadija watched, dazed, as her friend changed into them, plunging off her black abaya and niqab, and converting herself with an Iranian chemise, a duet of jeans and a colorful headscarf wrapped around her “hairs-breadth” in the Iranian style. Then she swaddled the doll in a blanket “as if its” a real baby, cuddled her friend and start out. What are you doing? Khadija hissed. What does it look like? Iman called back, before ending into the crowd.
It made a few minutes for their Iranian bodyguards to realise she was missing, and then intelligence agent swarmed into the square. But Iman was too quick for them and had asked the first wife “shes seen” with a telephone if she could acquire it. She rang her oldest brother, Abdullah bin Laden, a Jeddah businessman who had spurned his fathers lifestyle back in 1995. Unable to believe he was talking to someone he had consider to be long dead, he apprise Iman to run to the Saudi embassy. He would call ahead.
Back in the Tourist Complex, the family sat in silence, too frightened to be hopeful. For three days “there werent” story. Then, as Mahfouz and his family watched a local cable channel, a ticker videotape flowed across the bottom of the screen. Ordinarily, it carried service updates or ads for local kebab browses. But this one was different. Iman is fine, it predicted. She has come.
The artery to Jeddah: what happened next
Iman bin Laden was reunited with her mom Najwa in Syria in early 2010, after spending more than 100 dates within the Saudi embassy in Tehran. She now lives in Jeddah with various siblings, including Fatima; her mom often roams to Qatar where many other family members live, including Omar and Ladin.
In late 2010, Khairiah and Hamzah were liberated from Iran and headed for Osama in Pakistan. Khairiah was with her husband when
he was killed in the May 2011 attack on Abbottabad, Pakistan, but endured. Hamzah narrowly escaped and set out to become the new figurehead of al-Qaida; earlier this year, he was officially designated a global terrorist by the US. The 2011 attack too killed Khalid, Osamas son by Seham.
After a year in Pakistani detention, Khairiah, Seham and Amal, who had all evidenced the assassination of their partner, were evicted, together with 11 children and grandchildren, to Saudi Arabia. Today they live in a combination outside Jeddah.
Mahfouz, who watched the news reports on Osamas death from the Tourist Complex, lastly escaped Iran in 2012 and returned to Mauritania.
Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levys book The Deport: The Flight Of Osama Bin Laden is published on 23 May by Bloomsbury at 25.
https :// www.theguardian.com/ world/ 2017/ may/ 06/ osama-bin-laden-family-on-the-run-after-9- 11