A frail Osama bin Laden lived out his final days in a poisonous atmosphere cooped up with two wives who suspected a third of plotting his betray-al, according to a new account of his life and death in Pakistan.
Research by Brig. Shaukat Qadir, a retired Pakistani army officer, paints the al-Qaida leader as a feeble figure, struggling with the onset of dementia aged just 54, and unable to keep the women in his life from quarrelling in the cramped, three-storey house shared by 27 people. And it offers a tantalizing hint that the world's most wanted man may have been brought down by a scorned wife.
The terrorist leader was killed when U.S. special forces raided the walled compound in Abbottabad - barely 50 kilometres from the capital, Islamabad - on May 2 last year.
Qadir pieced together events leading up to the raid from interviews with security officials, transcripts of the interrogation of one of bin Lad-en's wives, Amal Ahmed Abdel-Fatah al-Sada, by the Pakistanis and rare visits to the compound. There, the world's most wanted man lived and died on the third floor of the house, where he shared a room with al-Sada, his youngest and favourite wife. A second wife, Siham Saber, used a room across the landing.
But their harmonious existence was upset by the arrival early last year of a third wife, Khairiah Saber, the most senior of the three. She moved in several months after being freed from custody in Iran.
"The younger two wives had lived together happily. It was only when Khairiah arrived that these other two had a problem with her," said Qadir. "The idea I get is that Osama was indifferent but the rest of his family didn't like her at all, because they were suspicious of her motives."
Khairiah was already deeply jealous of al-Sada - a Yemeni who was only 19 when she married - and was badgered constantly by bin Laden's son, Khaled, to explain why she had suddenly appeared.
On one occasion, according to the interrogation records, a smile flickered across Khairiah's lips as she told the family: "I have one more duty to perform for my husband." Her words prompted hysteria among the group that bin Laden was about to be betrayed, but he stared blankly into space when told.
He was reported to have said: "If this is what she's going to do then so be it. It's a wife's duty to relieve her husband," suggesting he was ready to accept his fate and eager to escape ill health.