WASHINGTON: CIA officials in Pakistan have interviewed three widows of Osama bin Laden, the White House and the Pentagon said on Friday.
“The US government has had access to Osama bin Laden’s wives,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters but refused to give details of the meeting. “We obviously appreciate the cooperation we have received from the Pakistan government,” he said.
At the Pentagon, spokesman Col Dave Lapan also confirmed the meeting but said he would not discuss what was said during the questioning or whether the interviews would continue. The US media, quoting US intelligence officials, reported that the meeting lasted approximately 30 minutes and Pakistani officials were also present.
The media reported that the CIA did not get a lot of information from them, but there may be further meetings.
The eldest of the three widows served as the spokeswoman. Several of Bin Laden’s daughters were also present.
US officials identified two of the widows as Khairiah Sabar, also known as “Umm Hamza”, and Siham Sabar, or “Umm Khalid”. Both are Saudi nationals.
Amal Ahmed Abdulfattah, 29, the youngest of the three, is from Yemen. US officials did not say who the eldest was.
Much of the session was reportedly taken up with translation. CIA officials were not allowed to speak with the women separately.
The al Qaeda leader had five wives, two of whom had separated from him. Together, they gave birth to at least 20 of his children, including 11 sons, one of whom was killed in the Abbottabad raid.
The US media described the overall demeanour of the women towards the Americans as “hostile”.
That wasn’t “overly surprising considering that we had killed their husband or father” and shot one of the wives, Amal Abdulfattah, in the leg, the official said.
The US media noted that Pakistan’s decision to allow CIA officials to meet Bin Laden’s family suggested “at least a partial thawing of the frosty relationship between the two uneasy allies”.
But the strict guidelines placed on the interview “by Pakistanis makes it clear that the two nations are still not working hand in hand”, one report noted. Part of the US’s reason for wanting to interrogate the women is to discover more about the daily operations at Bin Laden’s compound, including whether anyone within the Pakistani government helped keep its location secret from US intelligence.
Senior US officials, however, have said there’s still no evidence that any active members of Pakistan’s military or intelligence establishment knew about or actively protected the Al Qaeda leader.
US officials are also hoping to discover more about Bin Laden’s financial situation. White House spokesman Jay Carney said earlier this week that the Obama administration also wanted “the materials that were collected by the Pakistanis after the US commandos” left Bin Laden`s compound.
On Tuesday, Interior Minister Rehman Malik told CNN that the United States would be given access to Bin Laden’s widows and children.
While the US forces flew off with Bin Laden’s body, they left behind the three widows as well as several children at the compound in Abbottabad.