Pakistan still holding bin Laden’s wives, children

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistani authorities still have three of Osama bin Laden’s wives and eight of his children in custody, nearly a week after the U.S. raid that killed the Saudi terrorist leader, and no countries have asked for their return, the government said Sunday.

Pakistan gained custody of bin Laden’s family members after the covert U.S. operation on May 2 that killed the al-Qaida chief and four others at his hide-out in the northwestern city of Abbottabad and further strained relations between the two nations.

Their questioning could provide more information on the U.S. military operation and help reveal how bin Laden was able to avoid capture nearly 10 years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that set off a massive manhunt for him. Pakistani authorities, who were deeply embarrassed by the raid, are not allowing the CIA access to them, the Foreign Ministry said.

On Monday, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was to brief parliament on the raid, which was carried out by two dozen U.S. Navy SEALs who helicoptered across the border from Afghanistan undetected and rappelled into the al-Qaida leader’s lair.

Pakistan’s army has said it had no idea bin Laden was hiding for up to six years in Abbottabad, an army town only two and a half hours’ drive from the capital, Islamabad. That claim has met with skepticism from U.S. officials, who have repeatedly criticized Pakistan for failing to crack down on Islamist militants.

Among bin Laden’s relatives taken into custody was his Yemeni-born wife Amal Ahmed Abdullfattah. She has told Pakistani investigators that she moved to the home in 2006 and never left the compound.

She is from the southern Yemeni province of Ibb, about 120 miles (193 kilometers) south of the capital, Sanaa. A family member there has sought a meeting with Pakistan’s ambassador to Yemen to ask about her fate and whether she is to return to Yemen. The relative, a cousin named Walid al-Sada, said the ambassador did not know and promised to get back to the family.

Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tahmina Janjua said no countries have asked for the return of bin Laden’s relatives. Pakistani officials, who have not disclosed where the relatives are being held, have said that they will be returned to their countries of origin.

Bin Laden led a life on the run, yet he kept his family close.

One of his sons, Khalid, was killed during the raid. Abdullfattah, his youngest wife, was shot in the leg and was initially taken to a military hospital, a Pakistani military official has said. One of his daughters watched her father being slain, he said.

Abdullfattah told interrogators that she never left the upper floors of the large, sparsely furnished building since she moved into bin Laden’s hide-out in 2006, said a Pakistani intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with the agency’s policy.

Children living near bin Laden’s hide-out said they never saw any Arab children or women at the compound.

“We often play cricket in a farm field but no boy from that house came here to play with us,” 15-year-old Fazil Shah said as he looked toward bin Laden’s home, which was guarded by troops and police.

“Two Pashtun boys, who were surely younger than me, used to come here from that house to watch us playing cricket, but they never played with us,” Shah said. “We never saw any Arab boy.”

When the Navy SEALs raided bin Laden’s compound, they collected computer equipment and videos, including one that showed bin Laden huddled in a blanket and wearing a knit cap while seated on the floor watching television — an image that contrasts with the bin Laden seen in propaganda videos released over the years, which depicted him as a charismatic religious figure unaffected by the world’s scorn.

A senior intelligence official who briefed reporters at the Pentagon on Saturday said that bin Laden was positively identified by comparing DNA samples taken from his body to a comprehensive DNA profile that had been compiled from bin Laden’s extended family. “Based on that analysis, the DNA is unquestionably his,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The possibility of mistaken identity on the basis of this analysis is “approximately one in 11.8 quadrillion,” the official said.

Still, many Pakistanis don’t believe bin Laden has died.

Osman Ahmed, a public transport driver in the capital, Islamabad, said there have been several false reports of his death before.

“They (America) have killed Osama five times, now this is the sixth time,” Ahmed said. “Allah knows better whether it is true or false but my heart does not accept his killing.”

At a news kiosk — where a newspaper headline read “America released five confiscated videos of Osama’s home” — Mohammad Khan said emphatically that bin Laden still lives.

“I think Osama did not die,” said Khan, a government employee. “I don’t believe even 1 percent that he was martyred in Abbottabad. The making of a video is not a big thing for America. They can do what they want because they have the latest technology. They can make impossible things seem possible.”

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Associated Press writers Deb Riechmann and Zarar Khan contributed to this report.

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