“I don’t understand why people only take one wife,” Osama bin Laden would often say, in what came closest to a playful joke. “If you take four wives, you live like a groom.”
But Osama disapproved of the way his own father, wealthy Yemeni builder Mohammed bin Laden, carried out the Islamic practice of polygamy which allows a man to legally take up to four wives.
One of 54 children, Osama was born in 1957 to 15-year-old Allia Ghanem, one of at least 20 women Mohammed, almost 40 years older than her, had married and divorced during his lifetime. Osama, their only child, was 3 years old when Mohammed put his mother aside. Allia, her son said years later, was “not a Koran bride, but a concubine”.
Rather than renounce polygamy, however, Osama bin Laden decided that his father had simply done wrong.
“To be a true Muslim,” bin Laden said, “you should only marry the four Islam-sanctioned women and then … treat all four fairly,” writes Peter Bergen, national security analyst and former producer. from CNN in “The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden” (Simon & Schuster), released Tuesday.
ONE COMPOUND IN ATTACKED, AT LEAST ONE GUARD KILLED
This, the fundamentalist believer claimed, was far superior to his father’s practice of forming wives by constantly divorcing them and marrying new ones.
At the time he instigated the September 11, 2001 attacks, bin Laden, then 44, was living in Afghanistan with three women. The two older ones – Khairiah Sabar, 52, a devout child psychologist who had abandoned an established career to marry her, and Siham al-Sharif, 44, a poet with a doctorate. in Quranic grammar – edited his speeches, refined his religious statements and encouraged his plans for global jihad.
Meanwhile, his third wife, Amal al-Sadah, a 17-year-old naïve from rural Yemen, has brought out his vanity.
“He drank Avena, an oat syrup that claims to have similar effects to Viagra, and he ate large amounts of olives, which he said produced similar results,” Bergen writes. “He also regularly applied the Just for Men dye to his beard.”
Immediately after 9/11, which left 2,977 dead, Osama’s extended family dispersed to the wind. Meanwhile, the jihadist who founded Al Qaeda to wage the holy war against the West has hid in the Afghan mountains and northern Pakistan to escape justice. But in 2004, as the United States bogged down in its nation-building efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, bin Laden felt the heat of the hunt dissipate.
It was then that the world’s most wanted man ordered his bodyguard, Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed abd al-Hamid, to buy land, hire an architect, and build a fortress large enough to house the family he intended to reunite in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
Ibrahim got to work, putting the $ 50,000 real estate purchase in his name and designing a house to his boss’s specifications. The three-story main house had four bedrooms on the first floor and four more on the second, each with its own bathroom. The top floor contained a bedroom, a bathroom, an office and a terrace for bin Laden’s use. In 2005, family members began to move in.
Ibrahim, who ostensibly owned the property, his brother Abrar, their wives and children came and went regularly. But they lived in a small annex, not in the main building.
The brothers followed strict operational security measures to keep a low profile. They used public phone booths in major cities to make important calls and removed batteries from their cell phones so they could not be tracked back to their home base.
AFGHAN TRANSLATOR WHO WORKED FOR THE AMERICAN ARMY WOULD BE BEED BY THE TALIBAN
The bin Ladens rarely, if ever, left the compound – with the exception of Amal, who had twice visited a local hospital to give birth under an assumed name, showing false identity papers and feigning deafness to avoid awkward questions.
But in 2010, the CIA took a break: A Pakistani informant in the overcrowded city of Peshawar spotted a man believed to be Ibrahim, bin Laden’s longtime bodyguard.
In August 2010, Ibrahim’s white Jeep drove the CIA to the walls of the property, 18 feet high and topped with barbed wire. The place was filled with Bin Laden’s three wives, eight of his youngest children and four grandchildren, including babies aged 2 and 3.
The property exhibited many unusual features that prompted CIA analysts to take note. There were no phone lines or internet service – despite the fact that whoever built it was surely rich enough to afford such necessities. The large main house had few windows and the open-air balcony on the top floor was surrounded on all sides by a high wall.
“Who puts a wall of privacy around a patio? Then CIA director Leon Panetta asked his aides.
“Exactly,” replied an analyst.
The agency set up a safe house near the mysterious compound to conduct a “life pattern” study on whoever lived there.
While the neighbors threw out their garbage to collect it regularly, the inhabitants of the compound burned all their garbage.
The acre of land enclosed within the walls contained a small farm that produced apples, vegetables, grapes and honey and housed chickens and even cows – food that was apparently eaten by invisible residents.
But the last clue was the clotheslines on the compound, which rattled every day with women’s clothes, shalwar kameez worn by Pakistani men, children’s outfits and diapers – far more than the 11 family members of the bodyguards could never wear.
The Invisible Dwellers, according to the laundry workers’ calculations, had to include an adult man, several adult women, and at least nine children, which was a perfect match for the polygamous patriarch they were looking for.
After more than nine years in hiding, Osama bin Laden has been betrayed by his family’s laundry.
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It was enough for Panetta. On December 14, 2010, he presented CIA evidence to then-President Barack Obama.
The agents never managed to capture a clearly identifiable image of Bin Laden to prove that they had finally discovered his hiding place. But “they also never found any evidence that undermined the idea that he lived there,” writes Bergen.
Obama was convinced. He ordered the Navy to begin planning the operation that on May 1, 2011 would smother the master of terror at 54 – a decision that may never have been made if Bin Laden had thought of giving his wives tumble dry.
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