SANAA: The Yemeni father of Osama bin Laden's youngest wife, wounded in a US raid that killed the al Qaeda leader, said he initially rebuffed a matchmaker's proposal that his daughter marry bin Laden, before blessing their union.
Ahmed Abdul-Fattah al-Saada said they were married in 1999, well before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, and that all he knew about bin Laden's politics then was that he had backed insurgents fighting Soviet forces in Afghanistan.
Saada told Reuters it took several requests before he allowed his daughter Amal, one of 17 children, to travel to Afghanistan to marry bin Laden when she was 18 years old and he was in his early 40s.
"My daughter was Osama bin Laden's wife, nothing more, and she had no relation to the al Qaeda organisation. I am confident of her innocence," he told Reuters in an interview in his modest one-storey home in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, adding that he would like to see her returned home from Pakistan.
"We are not in favour of bin Laden's actions and the al Qaeda organisation. We believe in coexistence between people."
Yemen, bin Laden's ancestral homeland, is home to an active regional arm of al Qaeda that claimed responsibility for a foiled 2009 attempt to blow up a US-bound plane. It was also blamed for bombs found in cargo en route to the U.S. in 2010.
Militants bombed the U.S. Navy warship Cole in the port of Aden in 2000. Two years later an al Qaeda attack damaged the French supertanker Limburg in the Gulf of Aden.
Many of those who trained in al Qaeda's camps in Afghanistan before the Sept. 11 attacks came from Yemen.
Saada said 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.
He said he did not receive any money from Saudi-born bin Laden for the marriage.
Daughter Chosen By Teacher
"Rashad asked his wife to nominate a girl to marry bin Laden because he wanted a Yemeni wife. The teacher selected my daughter," he said, adding that the man initially told him a Pakistani businessman wanted his daughter's hand.
"I refused at first and insisted on knowing who this person was. After that they said that he was Osama bin Laden, from a wealthy family in Saudi Arabia," he added.
He later relented because his daughter backed the idea: "She stuck to her view and told me she wanted to marry him, and I have not imposed a husband on any of my daughters. So I agreed."
Saada said he had never met bin Laden in person and that his daughter travelled to Afghanistan for the wedding ceremony accompanied by her sister and brother-in-law, who had fought there, and her teacher.
He said her travel companions stayed on for a month to make sure she was settling in well. After the Sept. 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."
U.S. authorities in Pakistan have interviewed three of bin Laden's widows, including Amal and two Saudi wives, but gathered little new information from them, US officials said.
Amal 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.
"We are not worried about the Americans interrogating her because she is just the wife of Osama bin Laden, and she and her children have no link to what he did. But I strongly reject handing to the American side this Yemeni citizen. She needs to return to her country."
Saada said his family had met the Yemeni foreign minister, who promised to help try to get his daughter and her children repatriated. Pakistan has said it will repatriate bin Laden's widows and their children.
"When I go to the mosque at prayer time, I call on God to return her to us," Saada said. "I hope they are given the chance to return to Yemen to begin a new life far from violence and being pursued."