ISLAMABAD — The United States wants access to Osama bin Laden’s three widows and any intelligence material its commandos left behind at the al-Qaida leader’s compound, a top American official said in comments broadcast today that could add a fresh sticking point in already frayed ties with Pakistan.
Donilon also said Pakistani authorities had collected other evidence from the house which the United States wanted to “work with them on assessing.” U.S. commandos managed to seize a large and valuable intelligence haul that included videos, telephone numbers and documents, along with the body of bin Laden, before flying back to Afghanistan, according to U.S. officials.
Pakistani officials have given little information, some of it conflicting, about the identities of the women and children left behind, including exactly how many there are and what they allegedly have been saying.
Information from the women, who remained in the house after the commandos killed bin Laden, might answer questions about whether Pakistan harbored the al-Qaida chief as many American officials are speculating. It could also reveal details about the day-to-day life of bin Laden, his actions since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and the inner workings of al-Qaida.
The women, along with several children also picked up from the house, are believed to be in Pakistani army custody. A Pakistani army official declined to comment today on the request, which U.S. National Security Adviser Tom Donilon revealed on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
The CIA and Pakistan’s spy agency, known by the acronym ISI, have worked uneasily together in the past on counterterrorism, but the unilateral U.S. raid – done without Pakistan’s advance knowledge – has exposed the deep mistrust that scars a complicated if vital partnership for both nations.
Even before the May 1 raid, the ISI said it was cutting cooperation with CIA to protest drone strikes close to the Afghan border, among other things. In the current environment, Pakistan could use the fact it has something Washington wants – bin Laden’s widows – as leverage to reduce some of the pressure it is under.
One of the wives is Yemeni, Pakistani officials have said. A copy of her passport, leaked to the local media, identifies her as Amal Ahmed Abdullfattah. She has allegedly told Pakistani investigators that she moved to the home in 2006 and never left the upper floors of the three-story compound, where bin Laden was living.
She is from the southern Yemeni province of Ibb, about 120 miles south of the capital, Sanaa. A family member there has sought a meeting with Pakistan’s ambassador to Yemen to ask about her fate and whether she is to return to Yemen. The relative, a cousin named Walid al-Sada, said the ambassador did not know and promised to get back to the family.
Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tahmina Janjua said no countries have asked for the return of bin Laden’s relatives. The Foreign Ministry in a statement last week said they were being well looked after and will be returned to their countries of origin.