BY TOM HUSSAIN, ISLAMABAD : Pakistan’s government might wash its hands of Osama bin Laden’s family as early as April 17, after an Islamabad court’s decision Monday to impose the lightest possible sentence on his three widows and two teenage daughters for violating minor immigration laws.
Each of the five women was sentenced to 45 days in prison for illegally entering and residing in Pakistan since 2002, the date that Amal Ahmed Abdel-Fatah al Sada, the youngest of the widows, gave in a statement to federal investigators. The widows and several of their children and grandchildren were left behind after U.S. forces killed bin Laden in a raid last May.
The women’s lawyer Atif Ali Khan said the Yemeni government had agreed to allow al Sada, a Yemeni national, to return home. He expressed confidence that talks with authorities in Saudi Arabia over accepting bin Laden’s Saudi wives, Khairiah Sabar and Siham Saber, would conclude successfully “in a few days.”
The court ordered the Interior Ministry to arrange for the repatriation of the five women and nine of bin Laden’s minor children by the end of the women’s sentence on April 17.
Their sentence was backdated to March 3, the date of their arrest on charges of illegally entering and residing in Pakistan. The sentence is the minimum allowed under the applicable law, which provides for a maximum jail term of six months. Each also was fined 10,000 rupees, about $110.
The verdict was delivered behind the fortified gates of the Islamabad house where the family members have been detained since last month. Before that they were in the custody of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate spy agency.
Pakistani security analysts said the ruling came as a relief to Pakistani authorities, who’ve been hugely embarrassed by news leaks last week of al Sada’s testimony.
According to the reports, she told Pakistani investigators that bin Laden had lived previously in the northern city of Peshawar and the picturesque Swat Valley while his Abbottabad residence was under construction. His family had lived in Karachi before reuniting with the al Qaida chief.
Her account varied slightly with an investigation conducted by a retired Pakistani brigadier, Shaukat Qadir, who found that bin Laden had traveled back to Afghanistan briefly after he fled the country in late 2001.
“The government really wanted to deport them as soon as possible, but it didn’t want to have to contend with criticism — domestic and international — that they had struck a deal with the terrorist’s family, so they dumped it on the courts,” said Mohammed Imran, a security analyst based in Islamabad.
“Nonetheless, a deal was struck” because government prosecutors earlier had dropped charges of aiding and abetting a terrorism suspect, which could have led to jail sentences of up to seven years, he said.
The analysts said Pakistani authorities also had sought assurances from their Saudi counterparts that bin Laden’s Saudi widows would be prevented from going public with their version of their life in exile.
The Islamabad court’s verdict came ahead of the imminent release of a judicial investigation into the circumstances of bin Laden’s stay in Pakistan.
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