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Bin Laden's daughter created Saudi-Iran rift

Last updated on: February 04, 2010 13:14 IST
Hamid Mir, who has interviewed Osama bin Laden thrice, reports on how the fugitive terrorist's family has divided the Islamic world.

Osama bin Laden's family has created fresh divisions between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the Shiite and Sunni totems of the Islamic world.

The war of words began after bin Laden's 18-year-old daughter Eman recently sought refuge in the Saudi embassy in Teheran.

Eman wants to travel to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where her elder brother Abdullah lives. Her mother Najwah wants the Iranian authorities to send her daughter to Damascus, Syria, where she has been living for the last nine years.

Saudi officials have urged the Iranian government to permit Eman to travel to Jeddah; Syrian officials have petitioned the Iranians to listen to the teenager's mother.

Omar bin Laden, Eman's 28-year-old brother, has appealed to the Iranian government that Eman be permitted to travel to Damascus.

Iran Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki informed this correspondent in Teheran that "The Saudi government wants Eman to go to Jeddah while her mother wants her to come to Damascus. We have decided to act according to the Vienna Convention."

He indicated that his government will not be part of this dispute and Teheran will take a decision according to Eman's will.

Eman entered Iran from Afghanistan with members of her family in December 2001 when she was only nine years old.

The Iranian authorities detained her with her brothers Saad (now 29), Osman (25), Hamza (20), Bakr (15) and sister Fatima (22) along with their stepmother Umme Hamza.

The family has since lived in a house on the outskirts of Teheran guarded by Iranian security personnel. Saad bin Laden escaped to Afghanistan in 2008 and joined Al Qaeda.

A few weeks ago Eman went shopping, dodged her Iranian minders and contacted her brother Abdullah in Jeddah on the telephone. She asked his help to escape from Iran. Abdullah advised her to immediately take refuge in the Saudi embassy, paving the way for a huge controversy.

When the Iranian authorities discovered that Eman had taken refuge in the Saudi embassy they informed Saudi officials that she could not leave Iran without their permission.

Eman's mother has spoken to her daughter on the phone many times, asking her to go to Damascus, but Saudi sources claim that Eman is determined to travel to Jeddah where Abdullah runs an advertising agency.

Another brother, Omar, lives in Qatar. He separated from his father a few months before the 9/11 attacks when he refused to become an Al Qaeda fighter. He left Afghanistan with his mother Najwa on September 9, 2001. He later married a British woman, Jane Felix, now called Zaina.

Omar contacted his younger brother Bakr in Teheran two weeks ago and convinced him to go to Damascus. Bakr reached Damascus a few days ago.

Abdullah separated from his father in 1996 when Osama bin Laden moved from Sudan to Afghanistan. While Abdullah has never denounced the Al Qaeda leader, Omar has done so many times.

Abdullah, Omar, Eman and eight other brothers and sisters were born to Najwa, bin Laden's first wife. She married Osama in 1974.

At least 28 members of the bin Laden family live in Iran, including 11 grandchildren.

Bin Laden has four wives and 26 children. His family fell apart after the Taliban government was ousted from Kabul in December 2001.

One wife lives in Damascus, another in Iran; his other wives are believed to be in Afghanistan.

According to sources, only two sons -- Muhammad and Abdul Rehman -- live with their father; the other children have not seen their father for nine years.

The Iranian foreign ministry expressed ignorance about the presence of bin Laden's family in Iran until Eman took refuge in the Saudi embassy.

Some Western diplomats claim Iran tried to trade members of the bin Laden family for Mujahedine Khalaq militants with the United States. These Iranian rebels live in Iraq, but the US refused the deal with Teheran. Iranian officials have denied these claims.

Hamid Mir in Teheran