Big love: bin Laden’s six wives

Laura Rozen

In all, the late al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had six wives. Three of them were living with him--along with 17 of his children--in the Abbottabad, Pakistan, compound where bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces in a raid early this month.

Time Magazine's Tim McGirk runs down the biographies of the six newly widowed bin Laden spouses. Technically, there are four widows and two ex-wives, since bin Laden divorced one of his wives, and a brief marriage was annulled. Three of bin Laden's widows are now reportedly in Pakistani custody, where the United States is seeking to question them. Bin Laden's first wife Najwa Ghamem, who is also his first cousin, comes from Syria and is thought to be living there now.

So who were the women who married the terrorist mastermind? Two of bin Laden's wives come from Saudi Arabia and are well educated--one was a child psychologist, another a teacher of Arabic, McGirk writes. Both are currently in Pakistani custody.

Bin Laden's fifth and youngest wife, Amal al-Sadah, 24, whom he wed in 2000, comes from Yemen. Amal--whose name on the passport released by the Pakistanis is Amal Ahmed Abdul Fatah--is currently in Pakistani custody, after being shot in the leg during the U.S. raid.

The identity and nationality of a sixth woman bin Laden briefly married in Sudan in 1994 before having the marriage annulled is not known, McGirk writes:

Wife #1: Najwa Ghamen, a Syrian and a first cousin, was 15 when she married bin Laden, scarcely two years older. Back then, bin Laden was a rich and well-connected Saudi youth, and Najwa had every reason to believe she was destined for a cushy life of luxury. Instead, she ended up raising 11 children on the run, struggling to keep her good looks in the scorching deserts of Afghanistan. [...] After 9/11, she fled Afghanistan with a mentally disabled son and is thought to have returned to her native Syria. Still married at the time of bin Laden's death, she is technically his fourth widow, although she is not in custody.[...]

[Ex] Wife #2: His second wife, Khadijah Sharif, was a teacher and nine years older than bin Laden when they were wed in 1983. She reportedly bore him three children before they were divorced sometime between 1993 and 1996 when they were living in Sudan, and bin Laden fell afoul of the Saudi regime.

Wife # 3: His third wife, Khairiah, whom bin Laden wed in 1985, was the "spiritual mother" of the sprawling family, according to a woman who knew the bin Ladens in Afghanistan. [...] This source claims that after 9/11, Khairiah fled through Iran where she was detained under house arrest before the Iranians allowed her to return to Saudi Arabia. From there, she slipped back to Pakistan to rejoin the al-Qaeda chief in Abbottabad. [...]

Wife #4: Shiman Sabar, who was also captured in the Abbottabad house, wed bin Laden in 1987. Militant sources say that after 9/11 she may have slipped across into Pakistan and remained there in hiding until it was safe for her to answer her husband's summons. [...]

Wife #6: His last wife, Amal [al-Sadah, from Yemen], may have been as young as 15 when a $5,000 bride price was paid to her Yemeni family and she was shipped off to marry bin Laden, nearly 30 years her elder, in Kandahar. Wed in 2000, they had one daughter, Safiya, who was allegedly in the bedroom with her father and mother when Seals shot him dead.

See also McGirk's "The Real Housewife of Abbottabad" on what Amal knows.

(Photo of passport photo of bin Laden's fifth wife, Amal, from Yemen, published in a Pakistani newspaper. Rehan Khan /EPA)