The National, Monday, May 9, 2011
WHEN 18-year-old Amal al-Sadah became the fifth wife of 43-year-old Osama bin Laden in 2000, she was “a quiet, polite, easygoing and confident teenager” who came from a big, conservative family in Yemen, a relative told CNN in an exclusive interview.
The relative, Ahmed, who knew al-Sadah growing up, said she came from a traditional family in Ibb, Yemen – established and respectable but, certainly, with no militant views paralleling the al-Qaeda leader’s terrorism.
The family had no connection to al-Qaeda prior to the arranged marriage, Ahmed told CNN during an interview last Friday.
While some accounts say a matchmaker put the couple together, the relative was not sure of that report, adding he heard many stories about how the two were betrothed.
“She was a very good overall person,” Ahmed told CNN. “The Sadah family is a big family in Ibb. The family of Amal was like most Yemeni families. They were conservative but also lived a modern life when compared to other families.
“The family is a respected family and is well known. The family had no extremist views, even though they came from a conservative background,” Ahmed said, referring to al-Sadah’s parents and siblings.
The Yemeni government was apparently pressuring the family not to speak publicly about their notorious in-law, Osama, Ahmed said.
“From what I know, the government would give the Sadah family an extremely difficult time and always warns them from talking to the media,” Ahmed said.
“The government tells them that the information or comments they give will be misunderstood or misinterpreted and could hurt the family more than the government.”
An al-Qaeda figure in Yemen, named Sheikh Rashed Mohammed Saeed Ismail, said he arranged the marriage and told the Yemen Post in 2008 that he was “the matchmaker” and that al-Sadah was one of his students, describing her as “religious and pious enough”.
Ismail, whose brother spent time as a detainee at Guantanamo Bay, accompanied the young bride-to-be to Afghanistan in July 2000, where she and Osama were married after he gave her family a US$5,000 dowry.
The marriage was apparently a political alliance to shore up Osama’s support in the land of his ancestors.
“I was told after they got married that Osama did not want to cut his ties with his ancestral home, Yemen,” Ahmed said.
Back in Yemen, al-Sadah was barely spoken of again, Ahmed told CNN.
“After her marriage, we heard little about her, and her direct family knew the dangers of talking about such topics,” Ahmed said. “Even if anyone asked them about her, they would avoid talking about the issue.”
In the aftermath of Osama’s death, al-Sadah has told interrogators that for five years, she did not venture outside the walled compound, according to a Pakistani military spokesman.
Al-Sadah, now 29, who was wounded in the raid, said she lived in the compound in Abbottabad with eight of Osama’s children and five others from another family.
All of them had been in Pakistani custody since the pre-dawn US commando raid last Monday that killed Osama, and they would eventually be returned to their country of origin, Abbas said.
With five wives, Osama had a total of 20 children, and one of his adult sons was also reported killed in the commando assault.
Al-Sadah is the youngest of the five wives. – CNN