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Pakistan deports bin Laden’s family to Saudi Arabia

By Tom Hussain, McClatchy Newspapers –

ISLAMABAD — On Wednesday, Pakistan was scheduled to deport the 14 members of Osama bin Laden’s family who had lived with him in a garrison town near Islamabad until U.S. forces killed him in a raid in May 2011.

After nearly a year in the custody of Pakistan’s security services, the family — including the ex-al Qaida chief’s three widows, two adult daughters and nine children — were scheduled to leave Islamabad on a chartered plane bound for Saudi Arabia.

There, they will live incognito — and in relative luxury — with bin Laden’s extended family, said the family’s Pakistani lawyer, Aamir Khalil. They have not been charged with any offense by Saudi authorities and would not be detained, he said.

“They will live with the family, but under very tight restrictions (on movement) and security arrangements made by the kingdom’s authorities,” he said.

They won’t be allowed to talk to the media, and it was unclear whether U.S. officials who might want to interrogate the relatives would have access to them.

A Saudi diplomatic official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said his government had agreed to a request from Islamabad to prevent bin Laden’s two Saudi widows, Khairiah Sabar and Siham Sabar, from talking publicly about their lives in Pakistan.

Osama bin Laden’s half-brother, Bakr Bin Mohammed Binladin, who chairs Saudi Binladin, the biggest construction company in the oil-rich desert kingdom, will look after the 14 family members.

The company is family owned and does not publish its earnings, but it regularly is involved in multibillion-dollar construction projects. Its latest move is a $400 million investment that gives it a 16.6 percent stake in a Saudi developer, Jeddah Economic, which is building the half-mile-high Kingdom Tower.

Bin Laden’s youngest wife, Amal Ahmed Abdel-Fatah al-Sada, a Yemeni national, and her five children will also remain in Saudi Arabia at the request of the Pakistani government and will be held under the same terms.

Saudi Arabia, along with China, is Pakistan’s closest diplomatic ally. With the departure of bin Laden’s family, Pakistan hopes to close an embarrassing chapter in its relationship with the United States. U.S. officials didn’t inform Pakistan that it was staging the raid on bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad on May 2, 2011, apparently because they feared the information would become public. Last month, Pakistan was further embarrassed by press leaks of a statement given to federal investigators by al-Sada, who reportedly said that bin Laden and his family had lived in Pakistan since 2002 — not 2006, as previously thought.

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