At first the White House said she was used by Osama bin Laden as a human shield and shot dead by U.S. forces who stormed his compound. Then it was said that she was shot in the leg, but not killed, when she “rushed” one of the Navy SEALs.
However it went down, U.S. investigators may have a difficult time getting a woman in the compound identified as one of bin Laden’s wives to tell what she knows about the last decade of life of the most-wanted al-Qaida leader and alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.
Amal Ahmed Abdul Fatah, also known as Amal Ahmed al-Sadah, was the youngest of bin Laden’s five wives. Media reports put her age at 27 or 29 — roughly half the age of the 54-year-old bin Laden.
Amal, a Yemeni native, was identified by a passport that U.S. forces found inside the walled bin Laden compound in Abbottabad, not far from the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, according to ABC News.
She was being treated for a leg wound at a hospital in Pakistan, where authorities have reportedly refused an American request to interrogate her.
A senior Pakistani intelligence official told Reuters that the wife and up to eight of bin Laden's children who were also in custody will be questioned by Pakistani officials and then probably turned over to their countries of origin, and not the United States, in accordance with Pakistani law.
The American strike team had reportedly intended to take her and the children but abandoned the plan after a U.S. transport helicopter malfunctioned or crashed. The Pakistani official told Reuters there was not enough room for the group on the other helicopters.
Amal and bin Laden and their three children lived on the second and third floors of the compound's main house, according to ABC News. She was in the room when the Navy SEALs stormed in and fired the shots that killed bin Laden.
She "rushed the U.S. assaulter and was shot in the leg, but not killed," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Tuesday, reversing an earlier report that she died being used as a human shield in the shooting.
Amal was bin Laden's fifth wife and the only one left living with him at the compound. Her family "gifted" her to him while in her late teens in 2000 — a year before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
“Even at her young age she was religious and spiritual enough and believed in the things that bin Laden — a very religious, pious and spiritual man — believed in,” Sheikh Rashad Mohammed Saeed Ismael, a bin Laden aide who helped arrange the matchmaking, told The Sunday Times of London in an article last year.
“Coming from a modest Yemeni family, she could live with him the tough life in mountain caves and be someone he could mold. She was also someone who did not mind marrying a man as old as her father, and truly believed that being a dutiful and obedient wife to her husband would grant her a place in heaven,” said the aide, also called Abu al-Fida.
The girl, daughter of a civil servant, lived in al-Fida's hometown of Ibb in southwest Yemen. Al-Fida met with her to get her consent, according to the Times account.
“I told her: You know of bin Laden, who gave away his palaces and fortune to wage jihad on behalf of Muslims. He lives in Afghanistan, sometimes in fear for his life, sometimes secured; sometimes in a city and a house, at other times in a mountain and a cave on the run.”
After she consented, her father gave al-Fida permission to take her to Afghanistan to be wed. In return, bin Laden gave his new bride's family a “generous” sum of money to ensure they were comfortable, according to the article.
“Although the marriage seems to have been a political arrangement between bin Laden and an important Yemeni tribe, meant to boost al-Qaeda recruitment in Yemen, bin Laden’s other wives were upset, and even his mother chastised him,” author Lawrence Wright wrote in his book "The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11."
It's unclear if Amal has been with bin Laden continuously since their wedding or when she moved into the Pakistan compound.
In a 2002 interview with the London-based Arabic-language weekly Al-Majallah, a bin Laden wife identified only as "A.S." — Amal al-Sadah's initials — offered some insight into her husband's personal life in hiding. She said he suffered from kidney and stomach ailments, needed pills to sleep and considered the U.S. his "number one enemy," according to a BBC account of the interview.
She said her husband would take turns visiting each of his wives.
"Each wife lived in her own house. There were two wives in Kandahar, each with her own house. The third wife had a house in Kabul, and the fourth in the Tora Bora mountains," wife A.S. said. "He used to come to me once a week. His wives met only once every month or two when he came to us or sent one of his sons to take us to one of the others' houses."
She also said her husband would often come home late "and lie down alone on his bed for long hours."
"He did not like anybody to talk to him. He became angry if I tried to talk to him and I would therefore leave him alone," she said.
"He used to sit and think for a long time and sleep very late. He did not sleep for more than two or three hours at a time. Though he was beside me, I sometimes felt lonely."