Pakistan Wasn't bin Laden's Only Hideout, Says Prime Minister

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AFP / Getty Images

Osama bin Laden, in an image from a video released by the U.S. Department of Defense on May 7, 2011

Osama bin Laden may have been found and killed in Pakistan, but that country's leaders believe it wasn't the only place where the al-Qaeda leader had traveled after fleeing Afghanistan in late 2001. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, in an exclusive interview with TIME on Wednesday — one of the first he has given since the raid on Abbottabad — thinks bin Laden may have visited his ancestral homeland, Yemen, in search of a new bride.

Just this past Tuesday, Gilani said, he received a cable from Pakistan's embassy in Syria reporting that the sister of bin Laden's fifth wife, a Yemeni national, was in Damascus and had made contact with Pakistani diplomats there. According to the cable, the sister-in-law claimed that bin Laden had married Amal Ahmed al-Sadah, currently 29, in Yemen in 2002. "That was after 9/11," said Gilani. "And they say that they've got the proof." If the information in the cable is correct, he continued, that would put bin Laden in Yemen in 2002.

Al-Sadah was in a bedroom with bin Laden when U.S. Navy SEALs stormed the three-story compound in Abbottabad, and was shot in the leg after allegedly attempting to protect her husband. She is being treated at a Pakistani hospital, and the Pakistan government says it will soon repatriate her to Yemen. (The U.S. has demanded access to al-Sadah in order to question her and others present in the compound when bin Laden was killed. The response from the Pakistani authorities, thus far, has been lukewarm.)

The claim that bin Laden was in Yemen mere months after the 9/11 attacks could, of course, simply be an attempt to spread the blame that Pakistan is currently attracting. Bin Laden's discovery less than a three hours' drive away from Gilani's office has amplified allegations of either complicity or ignorance on the part of Pakistan's much-vaunted intelligence agencies.

But Gilani isn't buying it. The Prime Minister says he isn't even sure that bin Laden had been hiding in the Abbottabad compound for the past six years. The claim, Gilani said, "is not authentic," adding that "terrorists don't normally stay in one place for more than 15 days."

Gilani accepts that there was an "intelligence failure," but insists that it wasn't only Pakistan's. "He was not confined to Pakistan alone," the Prime Minister said. "He was everywhere." And ultimately, Gilani added, bin Laden was not his responsibility.

"If they are concerned about bin Laden, they should be," Gilani said of his U.S. allies. "That's their issue. Bin Laden is not my citizen. When my citizens are being martyred, I'm responsible for that."