Presence Of His Family Likely Helped Bring Down Bin Laden : The Two-Way "One of the signatures of bin Laden's presence was an extended family and I think that's one of the building blocks that built the evidentiary case to find him," says journalist and bin Laden expert Peter Bergen.
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Presence Of His Family Likely Helped Bring Down Bin Laden

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Presence Of His Family Likely Helped Bring Down Bin Laden

Presence Of His Family Likely Helped Bring Down Bin Laden

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

It took days of putting pressure on Pakistani leaders, but the U.S. finally got access to Osama bin Laden's wives. Intelligence officials have revealed that they were allowed to question the three wives who were captured during the raid on bin Laden's compound, though officials haven't said what they learned from those interviews. To discuss what they might have known and to tell us a little about Osama bin Laden's family, we turned to Peter Bergen. He's one of the few Western journalists who spent time with bin Laden and is the author of several books about him, including "The Osama bin Laden I Know."

Welcome to the program.

Mr. PETER BERGEN (Author, "The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America and Al-Qaida."): Thank you.

MONTAGNE: To begin with, how useful are the wives likely to be, given that Osama bin Laden observed strict rules of Islam in his household, so presumably these wives were extremely isolated?

Mr. BERGEN: Right. For a start, they wouldn't have been able to meet any male that they weren't directly related to. All they would've known was what bin Laden was doing. They wouldn't have known if Ayman al Zawahri was coming and going.

The wives that we're presuming that were in the compound with him, two of them are pretty educated Saudis. One of them, for instance, has a doctorate in Islamic Sharia law. Another one has some kind of degree in Arabic studies. The third wife - the Yemeni wife who was shot in the thigh - she comes from a pretty, you know, humble background. Was really only a teenager when she married bin Laden.

But in terms of, like, material that would be useful for a counterterrorism perspective going forward, I think that it's going to be very limited.

MONTAGNE: Bin Laden's youngest wife, Amal, as you've just said, came from his ancestral home of Yemen, was a teenager when she married the much older bin Laden. She's the wife who is said to have rushed the Navy SEALs during the raid and was shot in the leg. Tell us about her.

Mr. BERGEN: She was essentially 17, 18. She was almost a child bride when she married bin Laden, age 43. She came from a relatively conservative rural family.

Little is known about her. Same as little is known about many of the wives. You know, she stuck with bin Laden. She obviously knew what she was getting into, because already when they'd married, shortly before 9/11, it was well known that bin Laden was the leader of al-Qaida and the global jihadi movement. And he was just kind of a hero amongst certain conservative Islamic circles at that time. So she knew what she was getting into.

And she stayed with him and she delivered a child to him - a girl - around the time of 9/11, that they named Sophia. Why did they name her Sophia? Well, because Sophia was somebody who'd lived at the time of the prophet Muhammad and had killed a Jew.

So you can imagine the mindset of the father and the mother here, who name their child Sophia in order that she grow up as somebody who will then go out and kill Jews.

MONTAGNE: Bin Laden's first wife, Najwa, who he married as a teenager himself and she was a young teenager.

Mr. BERGEN: Right.

MONTAGNE: They were estranged. She is living in Syria, not among those captured with him in Pakistan. She had written a memoir with her son called "Growing Up Bin Laden." She wrote in that that bin Laden beat some of the 11 children that she bore him. Was that the bin Laden that you knew or could even have known? I mean, any sense that he was abusive in that way?

Mr. BERGEN: You know, I mean, if the accounts of him beating his sons are true, you know, there was kind of this other side of him, which is he would take his wives and children on hunting trips in the desert. And these were sort of family expeditions. And he would, you know, recite poetry to his kids. And so there is this sort of other side of him - the domestic bin Laden.

You know, don't forget that when he - his father died when he was 10. And he probably only met his father on a few occasions. So - and his father had 53 other children. So, you know, bin Laden I think wanted to be sort of involved in the lives of his kids. He certainly wanted them to, sort of, follow in his footsteps. And some of them did and some of them didn't.

But one of the reasons that he was caught, I'm pretty sure, is that one of the patterns of life you'd be looking for with bin Laden is that he would be with his wives, that he would be with his children.

MONTAGNE: Are any of his children in line to become his successor?

Mr. BERGEN: Well, certainly it would have to be a son and he has 11 sons. And one of them - Saad bin Laden, who may be dead or in Pakistan relatively recently - certainly went into the family business and was sort of a division B commander within al-Qaida. So certainly the bin Laden name has a certain iconic value. And over time, one of the younger sons might, you know, choose to go into dad's line of work.

MONTAGNE: Peter Bergen's latest book is called "The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America and Al-Qaida."

Thanks very much for joining us.

Mr. BERGEN: Thank you, Renee.

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