ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Three widows of Osama bin Laden, taken into custody the night the al-Qaeda chief was killed, have been charged by Pakistani authorities with illegally entering the country.
The women, who could be jailed for up to five years, were among 16 people detained in the U.S. raid on bin Laden’s villa in Abbottabad last May. They have been living, along with an unspecified number of children, in a five-bedroom house in Islamabad provided by the government, Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters Thursday.
Malik did not say when the widows were charged for lacking visas or where they were now being held. He said children could be sent to their mothers’ home countries if the mothers were willing.
By some accounts, a total of 27 people — including eight of bin Laden’s children and four of his grandchildren — were living at the three-story compound where the world’s most-wanted terrorist had been holed up for six years.
Two of bin Laden’s children were born in Abbottabad, according to a retired Pakistani army brigadier general, Shaukat Qadir. He said he was privy to transcripts of interrogations of their mother — bin Laden’s fifth and youngest wife, a Yemeni named Amal Ahmed al-Sadah.
The other wives have been identified as Saudi nationals Siham Saber and Khairiah Sabar.
Whether any Pakistani authorities knew about bin Laden’s presence remains a nagging question; the cases against the widows may stir more controversy.
“If their entry into the country was illegal, then it’s a big question mark on the security arrangements carried out on our borders,” said Hashmat Habib, a prominent Pakistani lawyer.
A judicial commission has been investigating, but Qadir and others doubt it will get at the truth. “There is lots we don’t know and perhaps will not know for a long time to come,” he said.
Authorities also are holding Shakil Afridi, a doctor who assisted the CIA in its hunt for bin Laden by collecting DNA samples during a phony hepatitis vaccination program. He faces charges of treason, but vocal support by top U.S. officials has triggered speculation that Afridi may gain asylum as part of bargaining between Washington and Islamabad over the two countries’ future relations.