Pakistan minister: Bin Laden wives charged

One of Osama bin Laden's three wives detained after the raid in Pakistan appears in an ID card. CBS

Updated at 11:35 a.m. ET

(CBS/AP) ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Pakistan has charged Osama bin Laden's three widows with illegally entering and living in the country, the interior minister said Thursday.

The three women have been in Pakistani detention since May last year, when U.S. commandos raided the house where they, bin Laden and several of their children were staying. The commandos shot and killed bin Laden, and then buried his body at sea.

Rehman Malik said the three had been charged in court, but he did not say when. It was unclear if they had a lawyer.

He said their children were free to leave Pakistan, but could stay with their mothers for the duration of the trial.

A senior Western diplomat told CBS News on condition of anonymity that the charges against bin Laden's wives may be the result of pressure on Pakistan to keep them in the country.

"It is quite plausible that the Saudis want these people in Pakistan, away from the public eye," the diplomat said. "Once they return to Saudi Arabia, they may become a headache for the Saudis, especially if they speak out on events surrounding Osama bin Laden's killing."

A second senior Western diplomat said the news was "not surprising."

"My impression for some time has been that there are many people who would not like Osama bin Laden's family members to go public on the circumstances surrounding his killing."

A Pakistani legal expert contacted about the case, Hashmat Habib, said the maximum punishment the women could receive was five years in jail. One of their relatives has reportedly visited Pakistan recently to urge authorities to let them leave the country. The decision to charge them could be a formal part of that process.

One of the women is known to be from Yemen, another from Saudi Arabia. The nationality of the third woman is unclear.

Bin Laden, the subject of a massive international manhunt, had been living in the Pakistani army town of Abbottabad for around five years before the CIA traced his whereabouts. The unilateral American raid humiliated and angered the Pakistani army, which has also faced uncomfortable questions over why it wasn't aware of bin Laden's presence.

A government commission is investigating the affair, but few expect it to come up with many answers. Its members have interviewed the wives. Last month, the government destroyed the three-story compound the bin Laden clan was living in, removing a concrete reminder of the country's association with the world's most wanted man.

Brig. Shaukat Qadir, a retired Pakistani army officer who spent months researching the events and says he was given rare access to transcripts of Pakistani intelligence's interrogation of bin Laden's youngest wife, who was detained in the raid, paints a picture of bin Laden living in a house divided, with wives riven by suspicions.

On the top floor, sharing his bedroom, was his youngest wife and favorite. The trouble came when his eldest wife showed up and moved into the bedroom on the floor below.

Others in the family, crammed into the three-story villa compound where bin Laden would eventually be killed in a May 2 U.S. raid, were convinced that the eldest wife intended to betray the al Qaeda leader.

Qadir was also given rare entry into the villa, which was sealed after the raid and demolished last month. Pictures he took, which he allowed The Associated Press to see, showed the villa's main staircase, splattered with blood. Other pictures show windows protected by iron grills and the 20-foot high walls around the villa.

Qadir's research gives one of the most extensive descriptions of the arrangements in bin Laden's hideout. His account is based on accounts by an official of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency who escorted him on a tour of the villa, the interrogation transcription he was allowed to read, and interviews with other ISI officials and al Qaeda-linked militants and tribesmen in the Afghan-Pakistan border region.

The compound where bin Laden lived since mid-2005 was a crowded place, with 28 residents -- including bin Laden, his three wives, eight of his children and five of his grandchildren. The bin Laden children ranged in age from his 24-year-old son Khaled, who was killed in the raid, to a 3-year-old born during their time in Abbottabad. Bin Laden's courier, the courier's brother and their wives and children also lived in the compound.

The 54-year-old bin Laden himself seemed aged beyond his years, with suspected kidney or stomach diseases, and there were worries over his mental health, Qadir said he was told by ISI officials and an al Qaeda member he interviewed in the border regions.

Bin Laden lived and died on the third floor. One room he shared with his youngest wife, Amal Ahmed Abdel-Fatah al-Sada, a Yemeni who was 19 when she married the al Qaeda leader in 1999. Another wife, Siham Saber, lived in another room on the same floor that also served as a computer room, Qadir told AP.

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