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Bin Laden widow's condition worsens in Pakistani custody, brother says

Osama Bin Laden's brother in law, Zakaria al-Sadah, spoke to NBC News in Islamabad in his first interview with an American television network. NBC's Amna Nawaz reports.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Zakaria al-Sadah, Osama bin Laden's brother-in-law, said he is worried for the health of his sister, who was shot in the raid that killed the al-Qaida leader.  

Speaking to NBC News in Islamabad on Tuesday in his first interview with an American television network, al-Sadah talked about his fight to free his sister, Amal al-Sadah, who has been held, along with her five children, by the Pakistan government since the May 2011 raid by U.S. Navy SEALs.

"I want to get them out as soon as possible," al-Sadah said, "because kids, they can forget the past in the right environment. They will carry on."


Favorite wife
Twenty-nine year old Amal al-Sadah, originally from Yemen, had an arranged marriage with bin Laden when she was 17 or 18, in 1999 or 2000. She lived with him and their five children, now between three and 12 years old, in the Abbottabad compound made notorious by the U.S. forces' nighttime raid in which her husband was killed.

Al-Sadah said he was at home in Yemen when he got the news of the American raid and that his sister's presence at the compound shocked him and his family. 

"We didn't know that our sister was with him at the time," he said. "My mother, my father, my whole family was surprised that this had happened and she was actually there."

He explained that his family had been largely estranged from Amal after her marriage to bin Laden. Any communication between them was infrequent, and usually came through couriers. He didn't even know she or bin Laden were living in Abbottabad.

Bin Laden is believed to have been married six times, but divorced two of his wives. Amal was the last to marry him, his youngest wife, and reportedly also his favorite. Bin Laden reportedly spent the last years of his life mostly with Amal, with whom he lived and slept in the top portion of the compound.
Amal was shot in the leg during the U.S. operation, and her brother believes her physical condition may be worsening. 

"I've seen them eight times, each visit for an hour, maybe an hour and a half," he said. "But the last visit was two and a half months ago."  

Al-Sadah said the last time he saw his sister, she had lost the use of her injured leg. He is concerned authorities are deliberately keeping him from visiting to hide her deteriorating health.

NBC News

Zakaria al-Sadah speaks to NBC News' Amna Nawaz about his fight to free his sister, Osama bin Laden's widow, from Pakistani custody.

Long list of charges
For al-Sadah, the process has been a long and drawn out one. He said that after questioning by the special government commission investigating bin Laden's presence here, Amal’s return to Yemen seemed imminent.

But he said that with each step forward has come with two steps back. In the latest twist to the widows' story, Pakistan recently announced that all three women are being charged with illegally entering and staying in Pakistan and would continue to be confined to a house in Islamabad.

Al-Sadah, who has retained a lawyer to help secure his sister's freedom, says he's written to Pakistan's chief justice for permission for his sister, nieces and nephews to return with him to Yemen.

"Everyone knows that women and children – they're innocent," he said. "[Bin Laden] made them busy with the kids, taking care of the kids' needs. They were not included, none of them were included, in any of his agendas."

But the Pakistani government says it has its reasons for holding the women.

“The widows are facing charges of illegal entry, harboring an offender, impersonation and abetment,” said a senior official in Pakistan’s Ministry of the Interior, explaining the charges against Amal and the other widows. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case. “The punishments carry different kinds of sentences, so it is now up to courts proceedings. How much time it will take, no one can say.”

Another Pakistani intelligence official, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, explained another reason why the women’s case may be moving so slowly. “Since the Saudi and Yemeni governments have not made up their minds to take them back, the legal process could take a long time to keep them away from public scene.”

However, Aamir Khalil, the lawyer for Al-Sadah working on Amal’s case, of course sees things differently. “The case was filed after 10 months which is illegal; already we have filed a petition to quash the case and acquittal.”
 
He added that Islamabad’s High Court has directed the Director General of Pakistan’s ISI, Pakistan’s premiere intelligence agency, and the Ministries of Interior and Defense to arrange a meeting between Amal and her brother as soon as possible. 

‘Next time’
For now, al-Sadah said all he can do is try to provide some sense of hope for his nieces and nephews, most of whom can only remember life inside the compound walls in which their father was killed.

Al-Sadah said he had taken them toys when he was allowed to see them – soccer balls, balloons, and books – and that at the end of each visit, the children would beg him not to go.

"I always lied to them, whenever they asked me to stay," he said. "I would lie and say, 'Next time we'll go to the park,' 'Next time we'll go outside.' I keep telling them they're going to come back home soon."

NBC News' Fakhar Rehman contributed to this report.