RAWALPINDI, Pakistan – Osama bin Laden spent his last weeks in a house divided, amid wives riven by suspicions. On the top floor, sharing his bedroom, was his youngest wife and favorite. The trouble came when his eldest wife showed up and moved into the bedroom on the floor below.
Others in the family, crammed into the three-story villa compound where bin Laden would eventually be killed in a May 2 U.S. raid, were convinced that the eldest wife intended to betray the al-Qaida leader.
The picture of bin Laden’s life in the Abbottabad compound comes from Brig. Shaukat Qadir, a retired Pakistani army officer who spent months researching the events and says he was given rare access to transcripts of Pakistani intelligence’s interrogation of bin Laden’s youngest wife, who was detained in the raid.
Qadir’s research gives one of the most extensive descriptions of the arrangements in bin Laden’s hideout when U.S. SEAL commandos stormed in, killing bin Laden and four others. His research is based on accounts by an official of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency who escorted him on a tour of the villa, the interrogation transcription he was allowed to read, and interviews with other ISI officials and al-Qaida-linked militants and tribesmen.
The compound where bin Laden lived since mid-2005 was a crowded place, with 28 residents – including bin Laden, his three wives, eight of his children and five of his grandchildren. The bin Laden children ranged in age from his 24-year-old son Khaled, who was killed in the raid, to a 3-year-old born during their time in Abbottabad. Bin Laden’s courier, the courier’s brother and their wives and children also lived in the compound.
The 54-year-old bin Laden himself seemed aged beyond his years, with suspected kidney or stomach diseases, and there were worries over his mental health, Qadir said.
Bin Laden lived and died on the third floor. One room he shared with his youngest wife, Amal Ahmed Abdel-Fatah al-Sada, a Yemeni who was 19 when she married the al-Qaida leader in 1999. Another wife, Siham Saber, lived in another room on the same floor that also served as a computer room.
The arrival of his eldest wife, Saudi-born Khairiah Saber, in early 2011 stirred up the household, Amal said in her ISI interrogation.
There was already bad blood between Khairiah, who married bin Laden in the late 1980s, and Amal because of bin Laden’s favoritism for the younger Yemeni woman.
Even ISI officials who questioned Khairiah after the raid were daunted by her.
“She is so aggressive that she borders on being intimidating,” Qadir said he was told by an ISI interrogator.
Amal stayed close to bin Laden as he fled Afghanistan into Pakistan following the 2001 U.S. invasion. She took an active role in arranging protection for bin Laden and he wanted her by his side, tribal leaders told Qadir.
Khairiah fled Afghanistan in 2001 into Iran along with other bin Laden relatives and al-Qaida figures. She and others were held under house arrest in Iran until 2010, when Tehran let them leave in a swap for an Iranian diplomat kidnapped in Pakistan’s frontier city of Peshawar.
Khairiah showed up at Abbottabad in February or March 2011 and moved into the villa’s second floor.
Khalid, bin Laden’s son with Siham, was suspicious. He repeatedly asked Khairiah why she had come. At one point, she told him, “I have one final duty to perform for my husband.” Khalid immediately told his father what she had said and warned that she intended to betray him.
Amal, who shared Khalid’s fears, said bin Laden was also suspicious but was unconcerned, acting as if fate would decide.
There is no evidence Khairiah had any role in bin Laden’s end. Instead, U.S. officials have said the courier inadvertently led the CIA to the Abbottabad villa after they uncovered him in a monitored phone call.