|Authorities last month began destroying the house where Osama bin Laden and his wives were found [Reuters]|
Osama bin Laden’s three widows have been charged by Pakistani authorities with illegally entering and living in the country, Pakistan’s interior minister has said.
Bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda, was killed in a secret raid by US special forces on the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad on May 2 last year.
His three wives, and an undisclosed number of children, were among the 16 people detained by Pakistani authorities after the raid.
“They [the wives] were presented before the court. After that, they are on judicial remand, and are being kept in a proper, legal manner,” Rehman Malik, the interior minister, told reporters on Thursday.
“Cases have been registered against the adults, not the children … They can have a lawyer and they have full liberty to go to court and defend themselves,” he said.
Two of the wives are citizens of Saudi Arabia, and one is from Yemen, the Pakistani foreign ministry said.
Malik did not specify which court was dealing with the case, and where the women are being held currently.
The interior minister also did not specify what punishment the widows could be liable to receive.
Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali, a lawyer working with the Federal Investigation Agency that registered the case, told the AFP news agency that the maximum sentence was 10 years in jail and a fine of up to 10,000 rupees ($110).
He said that bin Laden’s children were being kept in a five-bedroom house “with proper facilities as if they were in their own home”, but that they were free to return to their native countries if their mothers agreed.
Earlier, Pakistan had said that it would repatriate the women to their home countries after a government commission investigating the May 2 raid completed its probe.
The commission has interviewed the family members for clues about how the al-Qaeda chief managed to stay in the country undetected.
The youngest widow, Amal Ahmed Abdulfattah, told Pakistani investigators in May that bin Laden and his family had lived in the Abbottabad compound for five years before he was killed.
That raid heightened tensions in the regional alliance between the United States and Pakistan.
While the operation was hailed as a success in the United States, Pakistan termed the presence of United States soldiers on a secret mission inside Pakistani territory a violation of its sovereignty.
Al Jazeera’s Imtiaz Tyab, reporting from Islamabad, said the announcement of the charges raised a great number of questions.
“Very shortly after the killing of Osama bin Laden … a lot of questions were asked about the fate of these women and indeed the many children that they have between them,” he said.
“There has always been some suggestion that the governments responsible for these women … don’t want them back. So it does beg the question, what is Pakistan’s motivation for charging these women with a crime here in this country.
“We had understood that Pakistan wanted [the women] to leave the country, so these charges contradict that in some way.”