Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Osama’s Women: Who Are They, What Do They Know? (Inter Press Service, 10 May 2011)

Courtesy: "Inter Press Service", 10 May 2011
Osama’s Women: Who Are They, What Do They Know?
By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, May 10, 2011 (IPS) - Pakistan authorities announced they would let the United States interrogate the widows of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, provided their countries of origin grant permission to do so.
But as the Inter Services Public Relations, the public face of the Pakistan Armed Forces, said it would concede to the U.S. on the question of bin Laden’s widows, some analysts say the women may be unable to provide real information, while others say it is about time Pakistan gives in.
Pakistan authorities have in their custody three women. Two are Saudi Arabian: Siham Sabar (also known as Umm Khalid or "mother of Khalid") and Khairiah Sabar (also known as Umm Hamza). The other is Yemeni, 29-year old Amal al-Sadah.

Along with the women are several children—eight of them bin Laden’s children, four his grandchildren—all taken from the compound in Abbottabad where he had been hiding out for years.
Amal al-Sadah, bin Laden's youngest wife, was shot in the leg in the U.S. operation that killed her husband on May 1, and is being treated in a hospital.
Brigadier Asad Munir, former chief of Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said extracting information from the women would be an exercise in futility.
"I doubt if these women would know too much, or of any value. They may not even know who came and visited Osama," Munir said. "Arabs don’t usually share a lot of information with their wives and these women were not involved in terrorism."
While he was in the intelligence service, Munir said they had never taken into custody a woman or even a child. "And I believe, if they will be interrogated, it will be in a very non-violent manner."
Hamid Mir, anchor of a popular show on Geo, a private television channel, could not agree more with Munir. "Osama once told me men should never share their secrets with women," Mir said. "He told me if he had told his first wife, Najwa, whom he divorced later, many of his plans, he would have long been caught!"
Mir was the first Pakistani journalist to have interviewed bin Laden in 1997, and the last the Al-Qaeda leader talked to before he went into hiding in 2001.
Mir provided a glimpse into the other side of the bin Laden episode that Pakistanis are curious about, amid all the grappling with political and military questions. Many want to know: Who are these women and children, and how could the wives have lived amicably in the same home for years?
The young girl found in the compound, said Mir, was Safiyah, who was born on Sept. 12, 2001, a day after the 9/11 terror attacks in the U.S.
"She is his widow Amal’s daughter, and she saw her father’s body being taken away by the U.S. Seals, I am told by security personnel who these women are in custody of," Mir confirmed to IPS over the phone from Islamabad.
It’s also true that all three wives were not allowed to venture out of the compound and while the children could go out and play with the neighbour children, they were also guarded, in case they blurted out anything incriminating.
Mir said bin Laden made sure all his children were home schooled. "His wife Umm Hamza was highly educated and it was she who taught the children," Mir said.
Two of his wives, Najwa Ghanhem or Umm Abdullah, and Khadijah Sharif or Umm Ali, both Saudi Arabians, divorced him.
Pakistani legal experts say giving access to the U.S. to interrogate the women would be not out of place.
Ahmer Bilal Sufi, who specialises in international law, explained to IPS that giving the U.S. access would be in keeping with international laws and conventions on terrorism. "There is an obligation on countries to extensively cooperate and share information," Sufi said.
But while Pakistan passed on information to the U.S. on bin Laden, the U.S. did not reciprocate, or withheld information, carrying out a "unilateral intervention," he said.
"Maybe our leadership needs to drive this point home to the U.S. as well as bring in the issue of reciprocity, of them sharing the information they took from the compound while the U.S. demands access to bin Laden’s family," he said.
Ghazi Salahuddin, a senior journalist, said allowing the U.S. access to the women would cause no harm. "Pakistan must cooperate and make amends for the ‘double game’ it has been playing, for far too long," he said.
"Bin Laden could not have hidden in Pakistan for as long as he did without the connivance of our authorities, let’s accept that. It is time to change our policy towards militancy. We should now proclaim zero tolerance for radicals, militants and the jihadists," he added.
Zohra Yusuf, a member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, reminded authorities the women should not be kept in custody for an unduly long period.
"They can’t be kept in a state of limbo, but must be set free as soon as possible," Yusuf said. "They should be sent back to their countries of origin as soon as possible." Once there, their governments can decide whether they want to hand them over to the U.S. for interrogation.
Sana Haroon, author of "Frontier of Faith: Islam in the Indo-Afghan Borderland", said she feels no sympathy for the bin Laden women because "they were wives of a criminal, mothers of jihadis, and had militant links. I don’t feel for them."
But what softens her up to the women, Haroon said, is "how much their mobility was restricted." Reports say Amal al-Sadah, bin Laden’s fifth wife, had not stepped out of her room in six years.
But Yusuf adds, "Maybe they were happy in that arrangement; it’s hard to speak for them." 


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