JEDDAH (Reuters) - Pakistan deported the family of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to Saudi Arabia on Friday, their lawyer and a diplomat said, nearly a year after U.S. special forces killed the world’s most wanted man in a northwestern Pakistani town.
The move ended months of speculation about the fate of the three widows and 11 children, who were detained by Pakistani security forces after the May 2 raid.
A Pakistani court sentenced the women to 45 days in prison this month for entering Pakistan illegally and ordered their deportation after the end of the prison term, which began on March 3 when they were formally arrested.
“The plane carrying Amal and (her brother) Zakariya al-Sadeh and the rest of the family is heading to (the Saudi Red Sea city of) Jeddah,” Ambassador Abdo Ali Abdulrahman told Reuters by telephone from Islamabad early on Friday. “This chapter that has continued for a year is now closed.”
The family lawyer, Aamir Khalil, said they had departed on a “special flight”.
Saudi officials declined immediate comment.
A Yemeni Foreign Ministry source said Amal and her children were in Saudi Arabia at the request of the bin Laden family to sort out their documents, and would go to Yemen later, without saying whether this would be to stay or to visit.
Once outside Pakistan, the family could reveal details about how the world’s most wanted man was able to hide in the country for years, possibly assisted by elements of the powerful Pakistani military and spy agency.
Any revelations about ties to bin Laden could embarrass Pakistan and anger Washington, which had been hunting bin Laden since the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
Pakistani officials describe bin Laden’s long presence in the hill town of Abbottabad as a security lapse and reject suggestions that members of the military and intelligence service were complicit in hiding him there.
The plane carrying bin Laden’s family took off at around 1:30 a.m. (2030 GMT) for Saudi Arabia, local TV channels said.
At the house in Islamabad where the relatives had been held, a white minivan pulled up to take them to the airport. The women refused to enter the van with a crush of media around it, so officials covered its windows with plastic sheets.
The Interior Ministry, which was in charge of the family, said in a statement it had “passed orders for the deportation of 14 members of OBL family in pursuance of the Court orders”.
“The family was kept safe and sound in a guest house ... They have been deported to the country of their choice, Saudi Arabia, today,” it said.
Apart from the three widows, the deportees included seven children and four grandchildren.
Additional reporting by Qasim Nauman in Islamabad and Mohammed Ghobari in Sanaa; Writing by Sami Aboudi and Chris Allbritton; Editing by Alistair Lyon