In a first-ever interview published Friday, the family of Osama bin Laden, including his mother, discussed their relationships with the man who became the world’s most wanted terrorist and their fears that his youngest son Hamza aims to emulate him.
Speaking to the Guardian newspaper, his mother Ghanem talked lovingly of the boy Osama, blaming others for leading him astray. His brothers were more realistic, describing their horrors and fears as they realized what he had become.
Bin Laden, a founder of al-Qaida, masterminded the September 11, 2001 attacks that killed more than 3,000 Americans. He was killed by US special forces in Pakistan in 2011.
In many ways these fears are repeated today as they watch the path of Hamza, 29, who was declared a “global terrorist” by the US last year after joining up with current al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. He is believed to be in Afghanistan.
“We thought everyone was over this,” Bin Laden’s brother Hassan told the Guardian. “Then the next thing I knew, Hamza was saying, ‘I am going to avenge my father.’ I don’t want to go through that again. If Hamza was in front of me now, I would tell him, ‘God guide you. Think twice about what you are doing. Don’t retake the steps of your father. You are entering horrible parts of your soul.’”
The family, one of Saudi Arabia’s richest and most influential, were allowed to talk to the media as part of Crown Prince Mohhamed Bin Salman’s reform drive.
Bin Laden’s mother Ghanem described him as a shy boy who was radicalized at university by members of the Muslim Brotherhood. “He became a different man,” she said. “I would always tell him to stay away from them, and he would never admit to me what he was doing, because he loved me so much.”
When she left the room, his brothers explained her comments, the Guardian reported. “She loved him so much and refuses to blame him. Instead, she blames those around him. She only knows the good boy side, the side we all saw. She never got to know the jihadist side,” said Ahmad, another brother.
The brothers described hearing about the 9/11 attack.
“I was shocked, stunned,” Ahmad said, recalling when the first reports emerged from New York. “It was a very strange feeling. We knew from the beginning [that it was Osama], within the first 48 hours. From the youngest to the eldest, we all felt ashamed of him.”
“We knew all of us were going to face horrible consequences. Our family abroad all came back to Saudi,” he added. “In Saudi, there was a travel ban. They tried as much as they could to maintain control over the family.”
The Guardian also spoke with top intelligence officials, who described Bin Laden’s motivation as he tried to create a war between the West and Islam.
“There is no doubt that he deliberately chose Saudi citizens for the 9/11 plot,” the Guardian quoted a British intelligence officer as saying. “He was convinced that was going to turn the West against his … home country. He did indeed succeed in inciting a war, but not the one he expected.”