Thursday, December 24, 2009

Bin Laden's Family Under House Arrest in Iran

London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Iman Bin Laden, the daughter of Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, has sought refuge in the Saudi Embassy in Iran after succeeding in escaping Iranian guards watching over her.

Iman disclosed in a telephone call to her brother Abdullah who lives in Syria that she and five of her brothers and sisters have been detained by the Iranian authorities since the US invasion of Afghanistan at the end of 2001.

The 29 year old Omar Bin Laden (pictured) told Asharq Al-Awsat that his sister Iman, five of his brothers and sisters, and his stepmother (Umm-Hamzah) are currently held by the Iranian authorities and appealed to the government in Tehran to release them.

Omar, who lives in Qatar, said in a telephone call and an email received by Asharq Al-Awsat" that the Bin Laden family of his first wife Najwa, a Syrian living in Damascus, did not know that her daughter Iman and her other brothers and sisters had been alive all these past years until she contacted her family one month ago.

He added that it is the first time since the 9/11 attacks that the whereabouts of his brothers and sisters, the children of Bin Laden, can be definitely ascertained: There are five in Saudi Arabia and three in Syria. He pointed out "we did not know even before four weeks the whereabouts of these brothers and sisters who are Saad who is now 30 years old, Othman who is 25, Fatima who is 22, Hamzah who is 20, Iman who is 17, and Bakr who is 15."

According to Omar, Osama's fourth son who is younger than Abdullah who lives in Saudi Arabia, Abdul-Rahman who lives in Syria with his mother Najwa, and Saad who is detained in Tehran with his other brothers and sisters, Iman contacted her brother Abdullah who asked her to seek refuge in the Saudi Embassy immediately, adding that contacts have been going on since that time to allow her to leave Iran but to no avail.

He told Asharq Al-Awsat that his sister "Iman has been living inside the Saudi Embassy for 25 days in a room provided for her by the officials there who welcomed her. We are working to complete the paperwork for allowing her to travel to Saudi Arabia or Syria. It must be said that Syria was generous with my mother and my brother. Two of my brothers are living there."

Fuad Qassas, the Saudi charge d'affaires in Tehran, confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat that Iman has been in the Saudi Embassy for over 25 days and talked about the "embassy's diplomatic efforts to send her in dignity to her family and relatives." On welcoming her, he said: "This is our duty. She is primarily a Saudi citizen and we offer this duty to any Saudi citizen who comes asking for help."

Omar Bin Laden sent Asharq Al-Awsat photos of his detained brothers and sisters who are held in Tehran and said they have not received any education since their detention in 2001 and want to return to their family in Saudi Arabia or Syria, adding that his sister Iman fled from the guards accompanying her and her stepmother (Umm-Hamzah) Mrs. Khayriyah during a shopping trip. She said the Iranian authorities allowed them out on a shopping trip once every six months.

Bin Laden's son went on to say: "Despite reports that Saad was killed a year and a half ago in the tribal strip in an American missile attack by a drone and that he was involved in terrorist operations, I can confirm the opposite of this." He explained that his mother (Najwa) left her children before the 9/11 attacks when she decided to leave Afghanistan but she is deeply regretting this and crying over the fate of her children she had left behind.

He added that he was concerned about his sister's health and mental condition after the failure of all the attempts to let her leave the embassy. He talked about the intervention of Saudi officials to solve the crisis but said their attempts have so far failed because of the tension in the countries' relations.

He pointed out in his telephone interview with Asharq al-Awsat yesterday that it was mere coincidence that made him know the fate of his five brothers and sisters. A young Iranian man let his brother Othman use his cell phone a month ago to contact and tell him that all of them were alive.

He said Othman was 17 years old at the time of 9/11 attacks but was able to escort his wife and baby son, his brother Saad and his wife and baby son, and the other brothers and several members of the Arab families to the Iranian borders where they were put up in a residential compound under heavy guard in the capital Tehran. The families were at first separated with the males in a residential annex and the females in a separate remote one. To protect them, they were not allowed to leave the compound at all but were allowed to mix after some time and provided with television sets.

The Iranian Government was generous in caring for them and providing them with everything they needed but the Iranian authorities probably did not know what to do with this large group of Arab families who are not wanted by any side.

Bin Laden's son reiterated his thanks to the Iranian Government for what it has provided for his brothers and sisters "but now and after eight and a half year, the changes in the situations, and since there are several places where they wish to move so as to be with their families and mothers, we want to reunite the family and need to rally together the efforts by several parties so as to fulfill this dream." He added: "I appeal to the Syrian Government to intervene due to its good relationship with Iran, particularly as my brothers and sisters are innocent and had nothing to do with the others' disputes with our father." He said: "We lived in Afghanistan because it was normal for children to live where their parents lived."

He went to point out that "we wrote to Amnesty International to act for my brothers and sisters, wrote to the United Nations, and corresponded with the Madrid club of 70 heads of state as to intervene for their release. All my brothers and sisters detained in Iran were born in Saudi Arabia. I have today 11 nephews and nieces who were born in Afghanistan or Iran but I have not seen them."

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