Pakistan set to free bin Laden's family

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

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

ISLAMABAD - Pakistan has reached out to Saudi Arabia and Yemen to arrange for the repatriation of Osama bin Laden's three wives and their children, a Pakistani intelligence official told CBS News on Friday, amid growing indications that bin Laden's family members may soon be free to return home.

On Thursday, a high-powered commission appointed by the Pakistani government to investigate the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden in the northern city of Abbottabad gave formal clearance for bin Laden's family members to return to their native countries, after two rounds of exhaustive interviews.

"We have now completed our investigations and pieced together all that we wanted to know from these family members," the senior Pakistani intelligence official told CBS News on condition of anonymity.

The Pakistani official said U.S. agents have interviewed bin Laden's family members, who were detained following the raid in the northern city of Abbottabad.

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"I believe the Americans have done their interrogation, so I don't think there is further need for U.S. access to these people. Pakistan gave access to U.S. officials some time back," he said, without specifying exactly when U.S. officials met with the al Qaeda leader's family.

"A decision in principle has been made to send these people back to their homes," the Pakistani intelligence official told CBS News, adding that only "procedural matters" remained to be resolved for the repatriation of the women and children. One of the wives is from Yemen, the other two are from Saudi Arabia.

Pakistani government officials have said in the past that one important aspect of the arrangements for repatriation will be to ensure that neither bin Laden's wives nor his children have the opportunity to speak out to the media once they return to their native lands.

"These people are the only eyewitnesses to the raid on bin Laden's home. I think there is an understanding between Pakistan and the United States that these people do not put out distorted accounts that could only stir up popular anger," a Pakistani government official, who also spoke to CBS News on condition of anonymity, said in September.

On Friday, a senior Western diplomat in Islamabad said it was possible the entire family - including the Yemeni wife - would be sent first to Saudi Arabia.

"Once in Saudi Arabia, the controls on the media are such that you won't have any of these people calling up a big network for an interview," he said.

However, the diplomat warned that once the family leaves Pakistan, it is impossible to guarantee their accounts won't eventually find their way onto the internet. "You can't stop bloggers, even in a country like Saudi Arabia, and you shouldn't be surprised if accounts of the bin Laden raid, attributed directly to these people, appear on the web."

  • Farhan Bokhari

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