Eleven years ago, a teenage girl was plucked from a quiet town in southern Yemen and taken first to Pakistan and then on to Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.
Her name was Amal al-Sadah, and a year before the 9/11 attacks she became Osama bin Laden’s fifth wife. She was 18; he was 43.
By his own account, an al Qaeda figure in Yemen called Sheikh Rashed Mohammed Saeed Ismail arranged the marriage.
Ismail (whose brother spent time as a detainee at Guantanamo Bay) told the Yemen Post in 2008: “I was the matchmaker for his wife Amal al-Sadah, who was one of my students.”
In July 2000, he accompanied the young bride-to-be to Afghanistan.
Last year, Ismail told journalist Hala Jaber: “Even at her young age, she was religious and spiritual enough, and believed in the things that bin Laden — a very religious, pious and spiritual man — believed in.”
It was also apparently a political alliance — to shore up bin Laden’s support in his ancestral homeland.
Bin Laden’s bodyguard at the time, Abu Jandal, was responsible for delivering the dowry.
“The Sheikh gave me $5,000 and told me to deliver it to a certain man in Yemen and that man in his turn took the money to the bride’s family,” he told the newspaper al Quds al Arabi in 2005.
In keeping with conservative Sunni tradition, the wedding celebrations were an all-male affair.
“The bride was deemed to have consented to the marriage by traveling to Afghanistan, so her presence was not required,” Jaba wrote in The Sunday Times after interviewing Ismail.
“The men celebrated with recitals of poetry and song, freshly slaughtered lambs and large dishes of rice.”
According to Abu Jandal, “songs and merriment were mixed with the firing of shots into the air.”
A year after the nuptials, Amal al-Sadah gave birth in Kandahar (within a few days of the 9/11 attacks) to a daughter called Safiyah. She is probably the same daughter who — according to Pakistani officials — saw her father shot dead this week.
Her mother, according to Pakistani sources, is now recovering from a leg wound suffered in the assault.
The passport of a Yemeni woman found at the compound appears to be hers — but the name is not an exact match.
Yemeni officials say they can’t conclusively identify the passport and the Pakistanis have not made any request to repatriate anyone at the compound.
It’s not clear whether bin Laden and al-Sadah had other children.
But the al Qaeda leader had more than 20 children by five wives. One of his adult sons was also reported killed in the raid on the Abbottabad compound.
CNN Terrorism Analyst Peter Bergen has written about bin Laden’s marriages in his book “The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al Qaeda’s Leader.”
He was first married at the age of 17 to a cousin, Najwa Ghanem, who was probably two years younger than him. They had 11 children, but after a peripatetic life together Najwa finally left him (and Afghanistan) a few days before 9/11.
Bin Laden’s second wife was Khadijah Sharif, nine years older than him, a highly educated woman and a direct descendant of the Prophet. They married in 1983 and had three children — but eventually they divorced while living in Sudan in the 1990s. In his interview with al Quds al Arabi, Abu Jandal said Khadijah was unable to cope with their austere existence and returned to Saudi Arabia.
Bin Laden’s first wife Najwa helped arrange his third marriage — to Khairiah Sabar. She was another highly educated woman and held a doctorate in Islamic sharia. She married bin Laden in 1985 and they had one child, a son. Bergen writes that it’s unknown if she survived the bombing of Afghanistan in October and November of 2001.
Then came Siham Sabar, who married bin Laden in 1987. They had four children and like Khairiah, she has not been heard of since the invasion of Afghanistan. Bin Laden’s fifth marriage — soon after Khadijah left Sudan — was annulled within 48 hours.
After bin Laden’s extended family arrived in Afghanistan in 1996, they would ride in a bus accompanied by a vehicle full of guards, according to bodyguard Abu Jandal.
He said bin Laden’s three wives lived in harmony in the same house. They would go on family outings — bin Laden in a car followed by the family bus.
On such outings. Abu Jandal said, the al Qaeda leader would teach his wives how to us firearms.
CNN Terrorism Analyst Paul Cruickshank says it is not surprising the compound in Abbottabad attacked on Sunday included several children — although it’s not known how many were bin Laden’s.
“He was trying to train up his sons to follow in his footsteps; he had many of his daughters around him as well in Afghanistan.”
But only one wife remained.
Altogether, according to Abu Jandal, Osama bin Laden had 11 sons, some of whom abandoned the austere existence of their father for a more prosperous existence as part of the wealthy bin Laden family.
“As to daughters, there is no possibility of knowing the number,” Abu Jandal told al Quds al Arabi.
But in the weeks after 9/11, bin Laden told Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir that he had plans for his youngest daughter, Safiyah.
“I became a father of a girl after September 11,” he said. “I named her after Safiyah who killed a Jewish spy at the time of the Prophet. (My daughter) will kill enemies of Islam like Safiyah.”