x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Matchmaker describes how he found bin Laden a nice Yemeni wife

Leader of al Qa'eda asked cleric Sheikh Rashad Mohammad Ismail to find him a nice Yemeni girl who was 'religious and moral' and had a link to the descendents of Prophet Mohammed.

Ahmed Abdul Fattah al Saada, the father of Osama bin Laden's youngest wife, says he initially rebuffed a matchmaker's proposal that his daughter marry bin Laden, before blessing their union.
Ahmed Abdul Fattah al Saada, the father of Osama bin Laden's youngest wife, says he initially rebuffed a matchmaker's proposal that his daughter marry bin Laden, before blessing their union.

SANA'A // She wanted to be a "martyr of God" and bear children to "this precious man of noble origin". He wanted a nice Yemeni girl who was "religious and moral".

With those stipulations, Yemeni cleric Sheikh Rashad Mohammad Ismail claims he played matchmaker for the world's most wanted man.

In 1999, by his account, he arranged the marriage of Osama bin Laden to his fifth - some reports say sixth - wife, Amal al Sadah. She was 18 at the time, one of 17 children of a civil servant from the city of Ibb. Bin Laden was 43, and soon to shock the world with terror.

Now, Sheikh Ismail, 37, is demanding that Ms Sadah, who was with her husband when he was killed on May 2 by a US commando team in a secluded compound in Pakistan, be released from custody and US interrogation in Islamabad and returned to her native country.

A self-proclaimed "warrior-priest", Sheikh Ismail said he met bin Laden in Afghanistan in 1998, nine years after he arrived as a 15-year-old to fight the Soviet occupation. He said his ties to bin Laden, which cannot be confirmed, include serving as a military assistant to the terror leader from 2000 to 2001.

Yemen, bin Laden's ancestral homeland, is home to an active regional arm of al Qa'eda that claimed responsibility for a foiled 2009 attempt to blow up a U.S.-bound plane. It was also blamed for bombs found in cargo en route to the US in 2010.

Sheikh Ismail said he returned to Yemen before the bin laden-planned September 11 terrorist attacks on the US and was jailed in Ibb by Yemeni security for three years. Even so, his loyalty to the al Qa'eda chief remains unshaken.

"The Americans made his dream and wishes come true; which was to die fighting the infidels," he told The National in a recent interview in Ibb.

"This death is a turning point that will open a new chapter for the fight with the Crusaders," he added.

Despite the foreboding tone, Sheikh Ismail has fond recollections of the matrimony he allegedly nurtured between bin Laden and Ms Sadah.

"He wanted to marry a Yemeni girl and did not put any conditions on me except that she should be religious and moral. He did say he wanted to have a bond with the descendents of Prophet Mohammed," said Sheikh Ismail.

He said he immediately thought of Ms Sadah, whose deeply religious family claims to trace its ancestry back to the Prophet Mohammed.

Sheikh Ismail said he talked to the family of Ms Sadah in Ibb, a leafy city in Yemen's south-west, and they welcomed the idea. He said Ms Sabah herself accepted bin Laden proposal even after she knew about his spartan way of life.

He said the ultraconservative family accepted his proposal in part because of bin Laden's reputation for piety and high morals. This contradicts the account her father gave Reuters news agency in which Ahmed Abdul Fattah al Sadah was quoted as saying he rebuffed bin Laden's overtures several times before granting his blessing.

Mr Sadah also told reporters his daughter came into contact with bin Laden's circle as a teenager attending an Islamic religious school, where she was a student of the wife of Rashad Mohammed Saeed, whom he described as an aide to the militant leader.

"Rashad asked his wife to nominate a girl to marry bin Laden because he wanted a Yemeni wife. The teacher selected my daughter," Mr Sadah said, adding that the man initially told him a Pakistani businessman wanted his daughter's hand.

Sheikh Ismail said the family did not ask for a dowry but that US$5,000 (Dh18,367) was spent to purchase "gold jewellery and clothes" for the wedding ceremony which was reportedly held in Afghanistan in late 1999 or 2000. Mr Sadah has said he received no money from bin Laden for the marriage.

Sheikh Ismail, described as an "eloquent" preacher by his followers in Ibb, said he explained to Mrs Sadah that she would live a simple life in a "house made of mud bricks with no refrigerator, heater, or washing machine".

"I told her everything about his austere life and she accepted and said the hereafter is the lasting life. I then realised she was religiously and spiritually qualified to be a partner of this man and she was really what we wanted," he said.

He claims bin Laden used to speak highly of Ms Sadah and that he prayed for Sheikh Ismail for bringing him such a wife "who never complained or blamed him".

"She wanted to be a martyr of God; she is a faithful woman. It is a great honour for anybody to have a kinship or descendants from this precious man of noble origin," Sheikh Ismail said.

Sheikh Ismail said the last time he met the couple was in August 2001. "[Ms Sadah] paid farewell to my wife and told her to tell her family that she was very happy with Sheikh Osama and found in him what she wanted: a religious man who fears God and that she is worshipping God and prays to be a martyr," he said.

The news of bin Laden's killing, he said, made Mrs Sadah's father and mother in Ibb sad but not inconsolable.

"They are proud their daughter is the wife of a heroic martyr," he said.

But, in the Reuters report, Mr Sadah said: "My daughter was Osama bin Laden's wife, nothing more, and she had no relation to the al Qa'eda organisation … We are not in favour of bin Laden's actions and the al Qa'eda organisation. We believe in coexistence between people."

The father said that after the September 11 attacks, he lost all contact with his daughter, now 29, last speaking to her after the birth of her first child, a girl named Safia.

"We did not know until now where she was or how she was living or how many children she had," he said. "We had been planning for her mother and one of her brothers to visit her but the September events thwarted this plan."

According to reports, US authorities in Pakistan have interviewed three of bin Laden's widows, including Ms Sadah and two Saudi wives. Ms Sadah was reported to have earlier told Pakistani interrogators the family had lived for five years in the compound where bin Laden was killed by US special forces.

Mr Sadah said his family had met the Yemeni foreign minister, who promised to help get his daughter and her children repatriated. Pakistan has said it will repatriate bin Laden's widows and their children.

Until that happens, Sheikh Ismail has a message of hope for Ms Sadah locked away in Pakistan.

"We will not forget you and we will do our best to bring you back to your family. My advice is to be patient and we are confident that you will be back home and live decently among her family," he said.

He also urged the Pakistani government and the US to preserve the dignity of Ms Sadah, warning that any harm to her would be unacceptable.

"The Americans have to understand that honour is more precious to us than blood," he said.

malqadhi@thenational.ae

With additional reporting by Reuters