Three of Osama bin Laden's wives, once thought to know the family secrets of the world's most wanted fugitive, are soon expected to leave Pakistan after seven months in custody, according to Pakistani officials.
The three women -- two Saudis and one Yemeni -- were picked up by security officials early on the morning of May 2 in Abbottabad, Pakistan, just minutes after U.S. Navy SEALs killed the al Qaeda leader in the compound where U.S. officials believe he had been living for six years.
The three wives have been held by Pakistan's intelligence service ever since, but it's not clear they ever knew enough to shed light on bin Laden's travels after 2001 and how he came to be living in Abbottabad, Pakistan's equivalent of West Point.
United States officials said they were allowed to speak to the wives once, and that the oldest of the three was so combative that nothing at all came from the interrogation. Pakistani officials have not said how much, if anything, they learned from the women, who were debriefed by both Pakistani intelligence officials and a commission investigating bin Laden's death.
"We have recorded statement of Osama's wives and they are no more required," the commission head, retired Supreme Court Justice Javed Iqbal, said yesterday.
In the months after the raid, both Pakistani and U.S. officials described the wives as uncooperative and it's not clear that they knew much about bin Laden's work, especially in Abbottabad.
A video obtained exclusively by ABC News showing the inside of Bin Laden's compound revealed that bin Laden and his wives appeared to have lived on the top two floors of the three story house, but bin Laden could separate himself as much as he wished. The house was built to sustain multiple families independent of each other.
Each bedroom had an attached kitchen and bathroom -- meaning his wives might have seen each other only rarely -- and two tin doors could be closed to prevent those on the ground floor from walking upstairs. Bin Laden was married five times, but split from two of them. Bin Laden's first wife, a Syrian, left him shortly before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, and his fourth wife divorced him, according to "The Looming Tower" by Lawrence Wright.
A Pakistani intelligence official told ABC News today that the remaining wives had been cleared to leave Pakistan one month ago. Saudi Arabia recently restored citizenship to wives Khairiah Sabar and Siham Sabar, according to the Saudi newspaper Al-Hayat. Amal Ahmed Abdul Fatah, from Yemen, will likely go to Qatar, according to Britain's The Guardian, which first reported the departures.
Two Western officials said they were not surprised by the announcement, but cautioned that the wives' repatriation abroad might not happen quickly. U.S. officials have been generally dismissive of the wives' relevance to investigations into bin Laden since failing to get information out of them.
In the dramatic moments after the Navy SEALs left the Abbottabad compound, it was the wives who first identified bin Laden as among the dead.
Pakistani military officers reached the house about 15 minutes after the SEALs departed. The three women were handcuffed and screaming in Arabic, their children running around them, according to Pakistani officials.
One of the Pakistani officers was finally able to communicate with one of the Saudi wives in broken English.
"They killed him! They killed Abu Hamza," she screamed, according to an account provided to ABC News in May. The Pakistani official had no idea what she was talking about.
"What are you saying? Who is Abu Hamza?" he asked.
She seemed surprised that he didn't understand the significance of the raid. "Osama bin Laden," she replied.
Zardari's Health in Question
The fallout from the May 2 raid continues to rattle Pakistan's government. Last week a Pakistani-American businessman accused President Asif Ali Zardari of having prior knowledge of the raid, something Zardari and the White House deny. But the accusation and a memo allegedly approved by a close ally of Zardari that urged the removal of Pakistan's military leaders have created enormous tension between Zardari and the country's powerful military.
Zardari -- under enormous stress -- was rushed to Dubai earlier this week for what his aides have variously described as a "cardiovascular episode," a "mild heart attack," and even a "mild stroke." It's not clear which, if any, of those diagnoses are accurate, but Zardari was unable or unwilling to take calls for at least a day, according to aides. His departure from Pakistan created massive speculation about whether he was on the verge of resigning.
Today, his condition seems to have improved.
"He was totally lucid, said he'll return soon, and we spoke in detail about U.S.-Pakistan relations, the NATO crisis and other bilateral issues," Mark Siegel, a close Zardari associate who lobbies for the Pakistani government in Washington, told ABC News. "He could not have been more engaged or focused. He asked many questions about the situation in Washington."
Zardari also spoke to Hamid Mir, one of the most popular journalists in Pakistan.
"They think that I have fled but escape is not an option. I will never leave, as I was born in Pakistan and I will die in Pakistan," Mir quoted Zardari as saying. "Inshallah [God willing], I will return in a few days and my enemies will be disappointed."