10 May 2011

‘Pakistan may allow US access to bin Laden’s wives’

Pakistan may allow the United States to interview Osama bin Laden’s wives who were with him at the compound where he was killed, according to reports from Washington and Islamabad.

Bin Laden - Getty

US security officials have requested to speak to the three widows, but access has so far been denied by Pakistani authorities, and there were fears this could become a major sticking point.

Information from the women, who remained in the house after the commandos completed the mission, might answer questions about how the al-Qaeda chief could hide in “plain sight” of the Pakistani military in Abbottabad.

But a newswire service reports that a US official “familiar with the matter” has said: “The Pakistanis now appear willing to grant access. Hopefully they’ll carry through on the signals they’re sending.”

The White House has yet to comment on the subject, and a senior Pakistani government official in Islamabad said on Tuesday that no decision had been taken on the US request.

Bin Laden was shot dead on 2 May in a unilateral raid in Abbottabad to the embarrassment of Pakistan, which has for years denied the world’s most wanted man was on its soil.

Channel 4 News Special Reports: Osama bin Laden

Pakistan’s government is under pressure to explain how the al-Qaeda leader was found in the garrison town, a short distance from the country’s main military academy, and faces criticism at home over the perceived violation of sovereignty by the US commando team.

US investigators, who have been sifting through a huge stash of material seized in bin Laden’s high-walled compound, want to question his three wives as they seek to trace his movements and roll up his global militant network.

Pakistan has stated the three wives, one from Yemen and two from Saudi Arabia, and their children, will be repatriated. It has made contact with their countries but they have yet to say whether they will take them, an official said.

If Islamabad does grant the US access to the women, it could go some way to mending relations that have become fraught in the wake of the operation.

Pakistan is incensed that its sovereignty was breached and Washington has stopped just short of accusing Islamabad of harbouring bin Laden.

Read the World News blog: Post bin-Laden, the ISI may not want to work with CIA

On Monday, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yusuf Gilani delivered a trenchant attack on the US for landing on its soil without permission during the mission to kill bin Laden, and called accusations of Pakistani complicity “absurd.”

“Our people are rightly incensed on the issue of violation of sovereignty as typified by the covert US air and ground assault on Osama’s hideout in Abbottabad,” he said.