The NS Interview: Omar Bin Laden

“People are surprised when I say I’m the son of Osama Bin Laden”

What is it like having the world's most ­infamous surname?
I am proud to have the name of my grandfather, Mohammed Bin Laden. He travelled to Saudi Arabia, worked hard to build a construction empire and put himself at the right hand of King Abdulaziz. I would be a lesser man than my grandfather if I were to scorn his name.

How do people react to it?
People are surprised when they learn that I am the son of Osama Bin Laden. But once they get their wits in order, they are curious about my life and usually extend a hand of friendship, which leads me to believe that most people have very good hearts.

Do you have problems trying to get on a plane?
I have not experienced any problems getting on a plane, although I have had problems getting off! Once, I travelled to Spain - I didn't have a visa and requested political asylum. But the officials escorted me from the line and took me to the asylum unit - I was there for about a week while they looked at my case. My request was refused, but I applied for a court hearing. Nothing has been decided at this point.

What's your memory of 11 September 2001?
I was staying in the home of my father's mother in Jeddah. I had been sound asleep and was woken by my uncle yelling: "Look what your father has done!" I went into the sitting area and my family were gathered around the television. I soon learned that America was under
attack. It was a very sad day.

Did you imagine that Osama was involved?
I did not agree with my uncle's reaction. I never thought my father was capable of the carnage in America - it was too big for his small organisation. I cannot speak for my father's family. This topic is too painful for us to talk about. We were all so shocked by the suffering of those poor people that, after that morning, none of us ever had a conversation about it.

What was life like in the Bin Laden household?
There were lots of kids, so it could be noisy. But when my father was around, we were quiet and obedient. My childhood was mainly sad and lonely because of my father's passion for supporting the Afghan people against the Russians. I rarely had time with him and he was afraid for our safety, so we had to play indoors. When we left Saudi Arabia for Sudan, we lived more normally, but then we moved to Af­ghan­istan and life became more than tough.

In your book, Growing Up Bin Laden, you ­describe your father as stern. Do you have any fond memories of him?
Although my father was stern and did not ­hesitate to use his cane, there were good times when he stopped his war plans and played with us. My father could be very kindly and he was very close to his mother. I remember his face glowing with happiness when he was with her.

Do you think he is evil?
I would never answer such a question about my father. I will not let myself think about it.

Did he ever ask you to take up arms, before you broke contact with him in April 2001?
Only once, at a meeting with his fighters. His sons were in attendance, although none of us was a fighter. He spoke of how it is a great honour to give one's life for Islam and said anyone who wanted to give their life should put their name on a paper in the mosque. He never asked me to join al-Qaeda, but he did tell me I was the son chosen to carry on his work. He was disappointed when I said I was not suited to that life. I do not like disagreement or violence.

What would you like to forget?
I believe everything I have ever known was put in my life according to God's plan. If I list things I would like to forget, I am questioning God.

Do you plan to enter politics or public life?
I do not believe that I would be a good politician - I have a habit of speaking the truth, even when it does not serve me well. But I would like to be in a position to promote peace. I believe that the United Nations would be ideal for me.

What is your passion in life?
I have a great love of horses and I have a passion for taking care of my family. I also passionately want to try to stop violence. I do not yet know exactly how this will happen, but I know it will.

Where is your father?
What a question! Everyone asks me that. Very smart men all over the world are looking for my father, and they cannot find him. Does anyone really believe that I know where he is? If so, they are not thinking clearly.

If you knew where he was, would you tell?
If such a time comes, God will guide me to the correct path. But any child on earth would have difficulty with such a situation.

Are we all doomed?
I do not know God's plans for people on earth, so I cannot answer that.

“Growing Up Bin Laden" is published by Oneworld (£16.99). Interview by Mehdi Hasan.

 

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