Bin Laden's real-life Big Love troubles

The terrorist ringleader lived for five years under one roof with three wives and a dozen of kids. How did he manage?

A passport photo of Osama bin Laden's fifth and youngest wife, Amal Ahmed al-Sadah
(Image credit: REHAN KHAN/epa/Corbis)

Osama bin Laden may have been the world's most wanted terrorist, but he "was also a family man," says Tim McGirk at TIME. The Pakistan compound raided by U.S. forces two weeks ago was home to bin Laden, three of his wives, and a dozen or more children — sort of like "Big Love in Abbottabad," McGirk says. Here, a guide to bin Laden's multi-dimensional home-life on the lam:

How many wives did bin Laden have?

Six in all, including one who was estranged, another whom he divorced, and a third whose marriage to the terrorist mastermind was never consummated — and quickly annulled. The three remaining wives were living with him in his Pakistan compound.

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Who were the three wives he lived with?

Khairiah Sabar married bin Laden in 1985, and was the "spiritual mother" of the clan in Pakistan, McGirk reports. Siham Sabar, officially wife No. 4, married bin Laden in 1987. And Amal Ahmed al-Sadah, bin Laden's youngest wife, married him in 2000. She "may have been as young as 15 when a $5,000 price was paid to her Yemeni family before she was shipped off to marry bin Laden, nearly 30 years her elder," says McGirk. She was shot in the leg by the U.S. forces who raided the Abbottabad compound.

Where are these women now?

In the hands of authorities. Pakistan has detained — and the U.S. has questioned — all three wives who were living with bin Laden. The women have been "hostile" to their interrogators so far. Investigators are focusing on Siham Sabar, the "most educated" of bin Laden's wives, according to Business Insider.

How did they all live together?

Some of the bedrooms in the compound are suites that include their own kitchen and bathroom, so that occupants could have lived rather independently, say Jason Burke and Saeed Shah in The Guardian. One of bin Laden's wives "said she had not ventured outside one room" during the five years she lived in Abbottabad, according to BBC News.

And how many children did bin Laden have?

Differing reports vary between 20 and 26. The dozen or so children living with bin Laden in Pakistan were home-schooled, and a first-floor room appeared to have been a classroom, "judging by the whiteboard, markers and textbooks found there," say Burke and Shah.

How did bin Laden cope with this Big Love situation?

Bin Laden's ever-present, multitudinous "family must have driven him nuts," speculates McGirk. "He had no escape from the din, save for furtive pacing around the garden late at night or vanishing into his so-called Command and Control Center, a dank, windowless room." The living arrangement "would make the ultimate reality TV" show, say Burke and Shah.

Yet bin Laden was reportedly a family man?

Yes, those who knew him say he "was staunchly committed to his kith and kin — even when they publicly denounced him or abandoned his jihad," says Jerome Taylor in The Independent. Back in 2000, bin Laden told a jihadist publication why he kept his family close, even as he was planning attacks and looking to evade capture. "It is my desire that my children grow up in an atmosphere of jihad and absorb Islam in its true spirit. Believe me, when your children and your life become part of your struggle, life becomes very enjoyable."

Sources: BBC News, Business Insider, The Guardian, TIME, Washington Post

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