ISLAMABAD — Osama bin Laden’s three widows and their nine children were scheduled to be deported to Saudi Arabia overnight, almost a year after U.S. Navy SEALs killed the al-Qaida chief at a compound in northwest Pakistan, their lawyer said Tuesday.
The family was detained by Pakistani authorities immediately after the pre-dawn raid on May 2 in Abbottabad. The American commandos left them behind but took bin Laden’s body, which they later buried at sea.
The relatives were interrogated by Pakistani officials and eventually charged last month with illegally entering and living in the country. They were convicted on April 2 and sentenced to 45 days in prison, with credit for about a month served. Their prison term, which was spent at a well-guarded house in Islamabad, ends Tuesday.
Pakistani officials have said very little publicly about the family, raising questions about why they were kept in detention for so long.
Some speculated Pakistan was worried information from the widows would point to some level of official assistance in hiding bin Laden. The compound in Abbottabad where he lived for six years was about a kilometer (half a mile) from one of Pakistan’s main military academies.
The Pakistani government has denied knowing the terrorist leader’s whereabouts, and the U.S. has said it has no evidence senior Pakistani officials knew he was in Abbottabad.
But details leaked to the media from the interrogation of one of bin Laden’s widows raised further questions about how he was able to live in the country unnoticed for so long.
Amal Ahmed Abdel-Fatah al-Sada said the al-Qaida chief lived in five houses while on the run in Pakistan for nine years and fathered four children, two of whom were born in Pakistani government hospitals.
It’s also possible that one of the reasons Pakistan kept bin Laden’s family in detention for so long was the difficulty of figuring out where to send them. Two of the widows are from Saudi Arabia, and the third, al-Sada, is from Yemen.
Saudi Arabia stripped bin Laden of his citizenship in 1994 because of his verbal attacks against the Saudi royal family, and there have been questions about whether the country would accept the women. Saudi officials have declined to comment.
The lawyer for bin Laden’s family, Mohammed Amir Khalil, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that they were scheduled to fly to Saudi Arabia overnight. He originally said they were expected to leave around midnight.
A Pakistani official indicated there was a delay related to paperwork. It was unclear how long the delay would last, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.
It was unclear why al-Sada was not being sent to Yemen. Khalil said earlier that the Yemeni government had consented to her return, and her brother, Zakaria al-Sada, had said the government had issued her five children passports.
The family’s departure could help Pakistan close out a painful chapter in the country’s history. Pakistani officials were outraged that the U.S. did not tell them about the operation against bin Laden until after it happened — a decision American officials explained by saying they were worried the information would be leaked.
In addition to facing difficult questions about how bin Laden was able to hide in the country for so long, Pakistan’s army faced unusual domestic criticism because it was unable to stop the American raid from taking place.