Thursday, December 24, 2009

Bin Laden's Family in Iran

CAIRO: A daughter of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has taken refuge in the Saudi Embassy in Tehran after eluding guards who have held her and five siblings under house arrest for eight years, a Saudi-owned newspaper reported on Wednesday.

It has long been believed that Iran has held in custody a number of Osama’s children since they fled Afghanistan following the US-led invasion of that country in 2001 — most notably Saad and Hamza bin Laden, who are thought to have held positions in Al Qaeda.

This year, US officials said Saad may have been killed by a US airstrike in Pakistan, where they said he may have fled after being freed from Iran, but they could not confirm the information.

But Omar bin Laden, another son who lives abroad, told the Asharq Al Awsat newspaper that sister Eman told relatives in a call from the embassy that 29-year-old Saad and four other brothers were still being held in Iran.

Britain’s the Times reported on Wednesday that one of Osama’s wives and their 11 grandchildren were also living in Iran.

According to Asharq Al Awsat, Eman, 17, slipped away from guards and fled to the Saudi Embassy nearly a month ago. The embassy’s charge d’affaires, Fouad Al Qassas, confirmed to the paper that she had been at the mission for 25 days and that there were diplomatic efforts with the Iranians to get her out of the country.

Osama’s another son, Abdullah, who lives in Saudi Arabia, told the Al Jazeera TV that Eman telephoned him after she eluded guards who were taking her on a shopping trip in Tehran.

Osama reportedly has 19 children by several wives. He took at least one of his wives and their children with him to Afghanistan in the late 1990s after he was thrown out of his previous refuge, Sudan. They fled when the US-led war erupted.

Omar said the family had not known for certain the fate of the siblings that fled through Iran until Eman’s escape. ‘Until four weeks ago, we did not know where they were,’ said the 28-year-old Omar, who is married to a British woman and has lived in Egypt and the Gulf. He said eight of Osama’s children lived in Saudi Arabia and Syria.

Most of Osama’s children, like Omar, live as legitimate businessmen. The extended Bin Laden family, one of the wealthiest in Saudi Arabia, disowned Osama in 1994 when Saudi Arabia stripped him of his citizenship because of his militant activities.

Osama’s billionaire father Mohammed, who died in 1967, had more than 50 children and founded the Bin Laden Group, a construction conglomerate that gets many major building contracts in the kingdom.

Omar said he spoke by telephone in recent weeks to his 25-year-old brother Othman, who is among the six siblings being held in Iran. Othman told them that Iranian authorities detained the group after they crossed the border from Afghanistan in 2001, and since have been holding them under guard in a housing complex in Tehran, Omar told Asharq Al Awsat.

Omar identified siblings in Iran as Saad, Hamza, Othman, Bakr, Fatima and Eman.

The Times quoted Omar as saying that his brothers and sisters told him how they had fled Afghanistan and walked to the Iranian border. They were taken to a walled compound outside Tehran where guards said they were not allowed to leave ‘for their own safety’.

Omar said his relatives lived as normal a life as possible, cooking meals, watching television and reading. They were allowed out only rarely for shopping trips.

As a number of families are being held in the compound some of the older siblings have been able to marry and have their own children.

‘The Iranian government did not know what to do with this large group of people that nobody else wanted, so they just kept them safe. For that we owe them much gratitude, and thank Iran from the depth of our heart,’ he said.

Omar hopes that the family will be given permission to leave Iran and join his mother, brother and two sisters in Syria, or himself and his wife in Qatar.

Source: Pakistan Dawn

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