London, Asharq Al-Awsat- The fourth son of Al Qaeda leader, Osama Bin Laden, has appealed to Qatar, the UAE, and Oman to shelter his father’s wife Umm Hamzah, his five siblings and their eleven children, all of whom are currently being held by Tehran. In a telephone interview with Asharq Al-Awsat yesterday, Omar Bin Laden revealed that his siblings are not in possession of identification papers, and he called on Qatar, the UAE, and Oman, or other member-states of the Gulf Corporation Council [GCC] to shelter his family. He also revealed that Abdul Rahman Bin Laden, aged 31, Ruqqiyah Bin Laden, aged 12, and Noor Bin Laden, aged 10, are present in Syria and are awaiting a Saudi Arabian royal decree restoring their Saudi citizenship after Saudi Arabia officially revoked Osama Bin Laden’s citizenship in 2001. They have been joined by Iman and Bakr Bin Laden, who had previously been held by Iran since 2001.
Omar Bin Laden informed Asharq Al-Awsat that trustworthy scholars in Pakistan and Afghanistan have unsuccessfully attempted to mediate with the Iranian government in order to secure the release of the Bin Laden children who have been detained in Tehran since 2001. He also revealed that the open letter issued by his brother Khalid Bin Laden to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in which he called on him to intervene in this issue and secure the release of the Bin Laden family, was important and showed the world that the Bin Laden children – himself, and his brothers Khalid and Abdul Rahman – are in solidarity with regards to their relentless pursuit to reunite the family. Omar Bin Laden stressed his siblings are living well at a residential compound in Tehran, saying that they lack
nothing except for the Internet. He also revealed that they are in telephone contact with him, his mother Mrs. Najwa Ghanem, and brother Abdullah Bin Laden, and that they are well-informed about their living conditions. He told Asharq Al-Awsat that despite this good treatment provided by the Iranian authorities, they cannot spend the rest of their lives under house arrest.
Asharq Al-Awsat also received a letter from Omar Bin Laden’s British wife, Mrs. Zaina al-Sabah Bin Laden, which reveals more information about the members of the Bin Laden family being held by Tehran. The letter revealed that these are; Osman Bin Laden, aged 27, his two wives, two sons and one daughter; Saad Bin Laden, aged 30, his wife, two daughters and one son; Mohammed Bin Laden, his wife, two daughters and one son; Hamza Bin Laden, aged 19, his wife, and his one son and one daughter (Osama and Khairia) in addition to his mother Khairia Saaba otherwise known as Umm Hamzah, and also Fatima Bin Laden, aged 24, her husband and 5-month old daughter Najwa. This is after Bakr Bin Laden, aged 16, and Iman Bin Laden, aged 17, were released by the Iranian authorities. In her letter, Zaina al-Sabah specifies that “all the children are under 11 years old.”
The letter revealed that the Bin Laden children and his wife, Umm Hamzah, arrived in Iranian territory following a “near impossible” journey that lasted for “weeks.” The letter reveals that the Bin Laden family used valid Sudanese passports in order to enter the country; these passports had been issued to them by the Sudanese government during their stay in Sudan, before they moved to Afghanistan. Zaina al-Sabah noted that “”their names had been altered by the Sudanese government so it was impossible for them to be identified.” The letter also revealed that the family “found an apartment to stay in and lived happily for a few months” before the Iranian government became aware of them. However after the Tehran government began monitoring the situation and looking at the large number of refugees coming into the country from Afghanistan “they started to round these people up and they confined [the Bin Laden family] them to guarded compounds under house arrest.”
The letter also revealed that the Bin Laden family “were well treated but had no communication with the outside world, other than a TV and occasional accompanied trips outside.” During one such trip in 2009, Iman Bin Laden, escaped from her guards and contacted her brother Abdullah Bin Laden, who advised her to seek refuge in the Saudi Arabian embassy in Tehran. She stayed at this embassy for more than 100 days before she was allowed to leave the country for Damascus last week.
Also revealed in the letter is the real reason Saad Bin Laden escaped Iranian custody two years ago was in an attempt to reveal the plight of the family and secure their release. The letter added that “we have no idea where he is, or if what the media says is true about him being killed” and asserts that “the intelligence agencies got it wrong when they said that Hamza and Saad were or are connected to Al Qaeda” since the two were under house arrest in Iran. Zaina al-Sabah adds in the letter that there “it is impossible for this to be the truth.” She also described Saad Bin Laden as being “incapable of harming a soul” and said “it is impossible for him to plan or commit any crime or violation” while “Hamzah has been in the compound since the very beginning…his life has been lived in seclusion.”
Zaina al-Sabah said that when Saad Bin Laden failed to return with help “Iman and Bakr planned to leave” and that “Iman decided it would be better if she went because she was…a little older.” She also reveals that during this period “the Iranian government had started to allow supervised calls to Najwa and Omar [from the Bin Laden family in Tehran], and it was then that Omar and I started to work to secure their release. We had been working for two months” when “the next thing we heard was that Iman had run away and arrived at the Saudi embassy.”
In her letter, Zaina al-Sabah added that “On 25 December 2009 the Iranian government flew Bakr to Syria” and that “after over 100 days [following Iman Bin Laden’s escape] the Iranian government flew Najwa [Ghanem] to Iran and accommodated her in a hotel, and she saw her daughter for the first time in more than 9 years.” She said that Iman Bin Laden was eventually allowed to leave Iran, and that “the Iranians had made us a promise, and they kept to their promise.”
Zaina al-Sabah reveals that the Iranians are willing to release the Bin Laden’s but “the Iranian government has nowhere to send Omar [Bin Laden’s] other siblings, we beg of any country to help us, either from the eastern or western world. These are just as much innocent victims as anyone else.” She also said “None of the siblings liked war or violence; all they ever wanted was a normal life with a normal family” and that “we again ask for the UAE or Qatar to please help them.”
For his part, Oman Bin Laden denied the allegations made by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb that the Iranian government has mistreated his family, and called on them not to interfere in his family’s affairs. He also confirmed that the Iranian government permitted his mother, Najwa Ghanem, and his sister, Iman Bin Laden, to leave the country, and that they are both safe in Damascus.
Asharq Al-Awsat was the first to break the story of Iman Bin Laden leaving Tehran for Damascus, accompanied by her mother, on Thursday.
In late December 2009, Asharq Al-Awsat also revealed that 18 members of the Bin Laden family who had been missing since the September 11 attacks had been present in Iran and under house arrest. Omar Bin Laden also revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat in early January that the youngest Bin Laden son, Bakr Bin Laden, had been released by the Iranian authorities, and that he joined his mother in Damascus on 25 December.