ISLAMABAD - A Pakistani court has sentenced Osama bin Laden's three widows and two of his daughters to 45 days in prison for illegally living in the country, ordering them deported when the sentence ends, their lawyer said.
With credit for time served, the women and several of their other children will leave Pakistan later this month, lawyer Mohammed Amir Khalil said on Monday. They have been in detention since American commandos killed bin Laden in a large house in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad on May 2, but they were formally charged with immigration offences only last month.
The Americans left the women and children behind in the house after they flew off with bin Laden's corpse.
The women may have information about how bin Laden managed to remain undetected for close to 10 years after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the U.S., despite being the subject of a massive international manhunt. The youngest, 30-year-old Yemeni wife Amal Ahmed Abdel-Fatah al-Sada, has told investigators bin Laden lived in five houses while on the run and fathered four children, two of whom were born in Pakistani government hospitals.
Pakistani officials have said they had no idea the al-Qaida chief was in Abbottabad, something many in Washington found hard to believe because his compound was located close to Pakistan's equivalent of the West Point military academy. The U.S. has not found evidence indicating senior Pakistani officials knew of bin Laden's whereabouts, but said he must have had some form of "support network."
Two of the widows are Saudi and one is Yemeni. Khalil said Yemen has consented to the return, but he is still in discussions with Saudi officials. Saudi Arabia stripped bin Laden of his citizenship in 1994 because of his verbal attacks against the Saudi royal family.
Al-Sada was overjoyed to finally be heading home, said her brother, Zakaria al-Sada, who has been campaigning for her release. Yemen has issued her five children passports so they can return with her, he said.
"This verdict is a victory for the oppressed after a tough time," he said.
A member of the bin Laden family in Saudi Arabia, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said they had talked to Saudi officials, who indicated they would be willing to allow the widows to return and grant their children citizenship if requested. But the family, which is prominent and wealthy, has not decided whether to intervene on the women's behalf, he said.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry declined to comment.
The five women were also ordered to pay a fine of about $110 each, which has already been done, said Khalil. The lawyer said he does not plan to appeal.
The three widows would like to be deported to the same country to "stay as one family," he said.
A Yemeni Foreign Ministry official said the country has not received a request to grant the Saudi widows residency.
Al-Sada told investigators she flew to Pakistan in 2000 and travelled to Afghanistan, where she married bin Laden before the Sept. 11 attacks.
After that, the family "scattered," she said, and she travelled to Karachi in Pakistan. She later met up with bin Laden in Peshawar and then moved to the Swat Valley, where they lived in two houses. They moved one more time before settling in Abbottabad in 2005.
Al-Sada, said to be bin Laden's favourite wife, was shot and wounded in the leg during the raid.
The compound in Abbottabad was a crowded place, with 28 residents — including the 54-year-old bin Laden, his wives, eight of his children and five of his grandchildren, according to Brig. Shaukat Qadir, a retired Pakistani army officer who spent months researching the bin Laden raid and said he was given access to interrogation transcripts.
The bin Laden children ranged in age from his son Khaled, who was in his 20s and was killed in the raid, to a 3-year-old born during their time in Abbottabad, said Qadir. Bin Laden's courier, the courier's brother and their wives and children also lived in the compound.
Associated Press writers Ahmed al-Haj in Sanaa, Yemen, and Abdullah al-Shihri in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia contributed to this report.