CAIRO - A 17-year-old daughter of Osama bin Laden has taken refuge in the Saudi Embassy in Tehran after eluding guards who have held her, her sister, and four brothers under house arrest for eight years, a Saudi-owned newspaper reported yesterday.
The paper, Asharq Al-Awsat, said the daughter, Eman, slipped away from guards and fled to the embassy nearly a month ago. The embassy's charge d'affaires, Fouad al-Qassas, confirmed to the paper that Eman had been at the mission for 25 days and that diplomatic efforts were under way with the Iranians to get her out of the country.
It has long been believed that Iran has held in custody a number of the al-Qaeda leader's children since they fled Afghanistan after the U.S.-led invasion there in 2001 - most notably Saad and Hamza bin Laden, who are thought to have held positions in the terror network.
Another son, Omar bin Laden, who lives abroad, told Asharq Al-Awsat that Eman told relatives in a call from the embassy that Saad, 24, and four other siblings were still being held in Iran.
There was no comment from Iranian or Saudi officials.
Another bin Laden son, Abdullah, who lives in Saudi Arabia, told the Arab TV news network Al-Jazeera in an interview aired this week that Eman called him after eluding guards who were taking her on a shopping trip in Tehran.
Osama bin Laden reportedly has 19 children by several wives. He took at least one of his wives and their children with him to Afghanistan in the late 1990s after he was thrown out of his previous refuge, Sudan. They fled when the U.S.-led war erupted, including the group that tried to escape through Iran.
Omar, 28, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the family had not known for certain the fate of the siblings who fled through Iran until Eman's escape. "Until four weeks ago, we did not know where they were," said Omar, whose wife is British and who has lived in Egypt and the Gulf. He said eight other bin Laden children live in Saudi Arabia and Syria.
Most of the al-Qaeda leader's children, like Omar, live as legitimate businessmen. The extended family, one of the wealthiest in Saudi Arabia, disowned Osama in 1994 when Saudi Arabia stripped him of his citizenship because of his militant activities. Osama bin Laden's billionaire father, Mohammed, who died in 1967, had more than 50 children and founded a construction conglomerate.
Omar bin Laden said he spoke by phone in recent weeks with his brother Othman, 25, who is among the six siblings held in Iran. Othman told them that Iranian authorities have been holding them under guard in a housing complex in Tehran, Omar told Asharq Al-Awsat.
In January, the Treasury slapped financial sanctions on Saad bin Laden and three other al-Qaeda figures for suspected terror activities. At the time, Michael McConnell, then-director of national intelligence, said it was believed Saad had left Iran and was likely in Pakistan. In July, U.S. counterterror officials said Saad may have been killed in a U.S. airstrike in Pakistan, but there has been no confirmation since.
Clashes Mark Iran Gathering
Security forces and hard-
line militiamen assaulted opposition protesters, beating men and women and firing tear gas, as thousands gathered in the central Iranian city of Isfahan for a memorial for the country's most senior dissident cleric, who died this week.
The crackdown showed signs of moving for the first time against clerics who support the opposition: Basij militiamen surrounded the house and office of two prominent religious figures, shouting slogans and breaking windows, opposition Web sites reported.
Sunday's death of the Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, 87, a sharp critic of Iran's leaders, gave a new push to opposition protests, which have endured despite a heavy security crackdown since disputed presidential elections in June. Tens of thousands marched in his funeral procession Monday in the holy city of Qom, many chanting slogans against the government.
Yesterday's violence erupted when thousands tried to gather for a memorial to Montazeri at a mosque. They were met by a large force of riot police and Basijis, which stormed the crowds to disperse them, according to a witness and opposition Web sites.
Farid Salavati, an Isfahan resident who tried to attend the memorial, said that sporadic clashes continued into the early afternoon and that the memorial was canceled. More than 50 people were arrested in the clashes, the Web sites said.
- Associated Press