document was given to FRONTLINE by a source close to bin Laden who would like
to remain anonymous. FRONTLINE found it a very useful source of information,
but could not independently verify much of the information contained herein.
Some of the information is true. However, some of it runs contrary to
accounts given by other reliable sources. That said, this document does
provide some important details regarding bin Laden and his family life.
Born 1957 for Syrian mother, Osama bin Laden was the
seventh son among fifty brothers and sisters.
Bin Laden the Father
His father Mohammed Awad bin Laden came to the kingdom from Hadramout
(South Yemen) sometime around 1930. The father started his life as a very
poor laborer (porter in Jeddah port), to end up as owner of the biggest
construction company in the kingdom. During the reign of King Saud, bin Laden
the father became very close to the royal family when he took the risk of
building King Saud's palaces much cheaper than the cheapest bid. He impressed
King Saud with his performance but he also built good relations with other
members of the royal family, especially Faisal. During the Saud-Faisal
conflict in the early sixties, bin Laden the father had a big role in
convincing King Saud to step down in favor of Faisal. After Saud's departure
the treasury was empty and bin Laden was so supportive to King Faisal that he
literally paid the civil servants' wages of the whole kingdom for six months.
King Faisal then issued a decree that all construction projects should go to
bin Laden. Indeed, he was appointed for a period as the minister of public
In 1969 the father
took the task of rebuilding Al-Aqsa mosque after the fire incident.
Interestingly the bin Laden family say that they have the credit of building
all the three mosques, because later on their company took over the task of
major extension in Mecca and Medina mosques.
The father was fairly
devoted Moslem, very humble and generous. He was so proud of the bag he used
when he was a porter that he kept it as a trophy in the main reception room
in his palace. The father used to insist on his sons to go and manage some
The father had very
dominating personality. He insisted to keep all his children in one premises.
He had a tough discipline and observed all the children with strict religious
and social code. He maintained a special daily program and obliged his
children to follow. At the same time the father was entertaining with trips
to the sea and desert. He dealt with his children as big men and demanded
them to show confidence at young age. He was very keen not to show any
difference in the treatment of his children.
Early Life, School
Osama was exposed
very early on his age to this experience but he lost his father when he was
13. He married at the age of 17 to a Syrian girl who was a relative. He grew up
as religiously committed boy and the early marriage was another factor of
protecting him from corruption.
Osama had his
primary, secondary and even university education in Jeddah. He had a degree
in public administration 1981 from King Abdul-Aziz University in Jeddah.
Countries of the Arabian Peninsula, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Sudan
are the only countries he has been to. All stories of trips to Switzerland,
Philippines, and London are all unfounded.
In addition to the
general Islamic commitment he started forming an Islamic responsibility at
early age. His father used to host hundreds of pilgrims during Hajj season
from al over the world. Some of those were senior Islamic scholars or leaders
of Muslim movements. This habit went on even after his father's death through
his elder brothers. He used to make good contacts and relations through those
At secondary school
and university he adopted the main trend of many educated Muslims at that
time, Muslim Brotherhood. There was a collection of Muslim scholars in Jeddah
and Mecca at that period. There was nothing extraordinary in his personality
and that trend was rather very non-confrontational. Interestingly, the 1980
raid in the Grand Mosque in Mecca was not appealing to him, neither the
theology nor that group. He had two distinguished teachers in Islamic
studies, which was a compulsory subject in the university. First was Abdullah
Azzam who became later as one of the big names in Afghanistan and the second
was Mohammed Quttub, a famous Islamic writer and philosopher.
The first encounter
with Afghanistan was as early as the first two weeks of Soviet invasion. He
went to Pakistan and was taken by his hosts Jamaat Islami from Karachi to
Peshawar to see the refugees and meet some leaders. Some of those leaders
like Rabbani and Sayyaf were common faces to him because he met them during
Hajj gatherings That trip which was [a] secret trip lasted for almost a month
and was an exploratory rather than action trip. He went back to the kingdom
and started lobbying with his brothers, relatives and friends at the school
to support the mujahedeen. He succeeded in collecting huge amount of money
and material as donations to jihad. He made another trip to take this
material. He took with him few Pakistanis and Afghanis who were working in
bin Laden Company for more than ten years. Again, he did not stay more than a
month. The trip was to Pakistan and the border only and was not to Afghanistan.
He went on collecting money and going in short trips once or twice a year
In 1982 he decided to
go inside Afghanistan. He brought with him plenty of the construction
machinery and put them at the disposal of the mujahedeen He started spending
more and more time in Afghanistan occasionally joining actual battles but not
in an organized manner. His presence was encouraging to more Saudis to come
but the numbers were still small at that period.
In 1984 he had one
further step in strengthening his presence in Afghanistan by establishing the
guesthouse in Peshawar (Baitul'ansar). That house was supposed to be the
first station of Arab mujahedeen when they come to Afghanistan before going
to the front or start training. At that period Osama did not have his own
command or training camps. He used to send the newcomers to one of the Afghan
establishment was coinciding with the formation of Jihad Service Bureau by
Abdullah Azzam in Peshawar. The Bureau was very active in terms of media,
publications and charity work. The Bureau publications were important in
attracting more Saudis and Arabs to Afghanistan.
In 1986 Osama decided
to have his own camps inside Afghanistan and within two years he built more
than six camps. Some were mobilized more than once. He decided to have his
own front and to run his own battles with his own command. Among the Arab
fighters he had, there were senior Arab ex-military men from Syria and Egypt
with good military experience. The story of the guesthouse and the camps was
very attractive for more Arab mujahedeen to come and there was a significant
surge in their numbers at that period.
In addition to many
exchanges of fire and small operations, the first major battle he had face to
face with the Soviet army with pure Arab personnel was the battle of Jaji in
the province of Baktia 200 kilometers away from Khost. From then until 1989
he had more than five major battles with hundreds of small operations and
exchanges of fire. During the period 1984-1989 he was staying more in
Afghanistan than Saudi Arabia. He would spend a total of eight months a year
or more in Afghanistan.
In 1988 he noticed
that he was backward in his documentation and was not able to give answers to
some families asking about their loved ones gone missing in Afghanistan. He
decided to make the matter much more organized and arranged for proper
documentation. He made a tracking record of the visitors, be they mujahedeen
or charity or simple visitors. Their movement between the guesthouse and the
camps had to be recorded as well as their first arrival and final departure.
The whole complex was then termed Al-Qa'edah which is an Arabic word meaning
"The Base." Al-Qa'edah was very much public knowledge. It was funny
to see some people triumphing because they discovered it!
Back to the Kingdom
Late 1989 after the
Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, he went to the kingdom in an ordinary
trip. There he was banned from travel and was trapped in the kingdom. The
Soviet withdrawal might have been a factor but the main reason for the travel
ban were his intentions to start a new "front" of jihad in South
Yemen. In addition, he embarrassed the regime by lectures and speeches
warning of impending invasion by Saddam. At that time the regime was at very
good terms with Saddam. He was instructed officially to keep low profile and
not to give public talks. Despite the travel ban he was not hostile to regime
at this stage. Indeed he presented a written advice in the form of a
detailed, personal, private and confidential letter to the king few weeks
before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
After the Iraq
He reacted swiftly to
Iraqi invasion and saw it fulfilling his prophecy. He immediately forwarded
another letter to the king suggesting in detail how to protect the country
from potentially advancing Iraqi forces. In addition to many military tactics
suggested, he volunteered to bring all the Arab mujahedeen to defend the
kingdom. That letter was presented in the first few days of the incident, and
the regime response was of consideration!
While he was
expecting some call to mobilize his men and equipment he heard the news which
transferred his life completely. The Americans are coming. He always
describes that moment as shocking moment. He felt depressed and thought that
maneuvers had to change. Instead of writing to the king or approaching other
members of the royal family, he started lobbying through religious scholars
and Muslim activists. He succeeded in extracting a fatwah from one of the
senior scholars that training and readiness is a religious duty. He
immediately circulated that fatwah and convinced people to have their
training in Afghanistan. It was estimated that 4000 went to Afghanistan in
response to the fatwah.
The regime was not
happy with his activities so they limited his movement to Jeddah only. He was
summoned for questioning twice for some of his speeches and activities and
was given warnings. To intimidate him, the regime raided his farm in the
suburb of Jeddah by the National Guard. He was not there during the raid and
was very angry when told. He wrote a letter of protest to Prince Abdullah.
Abdullah apologized and claimed he is not aware and promised to punish who
ever were responsible.
Fleeing the Kingdom
Osama was fed up with
this almost house arrest situation and did not imagine himself able to stay
in the country with the American forces around. One of his brothers was very
close to King Fahad and also close to Prince Ahmed, deputy minister of
interior. He convinced his brother that he needed to leave the country to
sort out some business matters in Pakistan and come back. There was a
difficult obstacle, the stubborn Prince Nayef, minister of interior. His
brother waited until Nayef went in a trip outside the kingdom and extracted
lifting the ban from prince Ahmed. When he arrived in Pakistan around April
1991 he sent a letter to his brother telling him that he is not coming back
and apologized for letting him down with the royal family.
In Afghanistan again
After his arrival to
Pakistan he went straight to Afghanistan because he knew the Pakistani
intelligence would hand him back to the Saudis. There, he attended the
collapse of the communist regime and the consequent dispute between the
Afghan parties. He spent great effort to arbitrate between them but with no
success He ordered his followers to avoid any involvement in the conflict and
told them it was a sin to side with any faction. During his stay the Saudis
tried more than once to kidnap or kill him in collaboration with the
Pakistani intelligence. His friends in the Saudi and Pakistani establishments
would always leak the plan and make him ready for it. After his failure in
sorting the Afghani dispute, he decided to leave Afghanistan. The only
alternative country he had was Sudan. He left Afghanistan disguised in
private jet only few months after his arrival. That was late 1991.
His choice of Sudan
had nothing to do with jihad or "terrorism." He was attracted to
Sudan because of what was at that time an Islamic banner raised by the new
regime in Sudan. He wanted to have good refuge as well as help the government
in its construction projects. There was no intention from his side or from
the Sudanese regime to have any military activity in Sudan. Indeed the
Sudanese government refused even sending some of his followers to the front
in the south. He was treated in Sudan as a special guest who wanted to help
Sudan when everybody was turning away. In Sudan he mobilized a lot of
construction equipment and enrolled himself in busy construction projects. He
spent good effort in convincing Saudi businessmen to invest in Sudan and had
reasonable success. Many of his brothers and Jeddah merchants had and still
have investment in real estate, farming and agricultural industry. In Sudan
he had again escaped an assassination attempt, which turned out later to be
the plan of Saudi intelligence.
Somalia and Yemen
During his stay in
Sudan anti-American incidents happened in Somalia and South Yemen. His group
in the proper sense of chain of command performed neither of the two
incidents. People who had training in Afghanistan and had enough
anti-American drive performed both. He might have given some sanctioning to
the operations but one thing was certain, the Sudanese were completely
unaware of either.
Saudis Go Anti
Between his arrival
to Sudan and early 1994 he was not regarded publicly as Saudi opposition and
Saudi citizens were visiting him without too much precautions. Only the
well-informed people would know that he was classified as enemy to the Saudi
regime. His assets were frozen sometime between 1992 and 1994 but that was
not published. The Saudis decided to announce their hostility early 1994 when
they publicized withdrawing his citizenship.
Bin Laden Goes
After long silence
and tolerance, bin Laden replied by issuing a communiqué condemning the Saudi
decision and saying that he does not need the "Saudi" reference to
identify himself and it is not up to Al-Saud to admit or expel people from
Arabian Peninsula. He then formed together with activists and scholars from
the kingdom a group called "Advice and Reform Committee" (ARC). The
ARC was, according to its communiqués and published agenda, a purely
political group. The ARC published around 17 communiqués, which might have
contained harsh criticism of the Saudi regime and plenty of religious
rhetoric but never contained reference for violence or incitement of
The car bomb in
spring 1995 in Riyadh was the first major anti-American action in the
kingdom. Bin Laden never claimed responsibility, but the Saudi government
tried to link the incident to bin Laden by showing video confessions of four
"Arab Afghans" involved in the bombing.
Out of Sudan
Sudan was exposed to
huge international pressure for hosting bin Laden and his followers, and bin
Laden felt that he is becoming an embarrassment to the Sudanese. Early in
1996 he started making contacts with his old friends in Afghanistan to
prepare for his reception. He fled Sudan in a very well planned trip with
many of his followers to go straight to Jalalabad in Eastern Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan Third
When he arrived
there, the situation in Afghanistan was very unsettled between the many
factions, but he had very good relations with all factions and all would
protect him. The area he arrived to was under control of Yunis Khalis, a very
influential warlord who later on joined Taliban.
The Khobar Bombing
June 1996, after his
arrival in Afghanistan was the Khobar bombing. Nobody claimed responsibility,
but sources from inside the Saudi ministry of interior confirmed involvement
of Arab Afghans, with possible link to bin Laden The Saudi government wanted
to frame Shi'a, at the beginning but Americans were very suspicious of the
Saudi story. Bin Laden himself never claimed responsibility but gave many
hints that he might have been involved. The Saudi government has acknowledged
recently that bin Laden's men were behind the bombing.
Jihad Against America
After few months of
his arrival he issued his first anti-American message, a Declaration of War.
That declaration was limited to expelling American forces outside the Arabian
Peninsula. His sense of security and nobody to embarrass must have been the
drive to release that 12 page declaration. Interest in him by the Saudis
never stopped and they tried very hard to convince Yunis Khalis to hand him
over, and he flatly refused despite the luxurious offers.
Jalalabad late 1996, almost without war, and bin Laden came under their
control. He was optimistic that they will give him sanctuary but he was not
sure. He was surprised when a delegation of Taliban came to meet him by order
of Mullah Omer, the leader of Taliban, with instructions to reassure him that
he will have even better protection under Taliban. The delegation expressed
Taliban honor of protecting somebody like him who sacrificed a lot for the
sake of jihad.
Another Kidnap Foiled
The Saudis never gave
up. Early 1997 they bought some mercenaries in the Pakistani Afghani border.
The operation was arranged with the Pakistani intelligence. The information leaked
to bin Laden and he decided to move immediately to Qandahar, the stronghold
of Taliban. The operation was then cancelled.
Credit with Taliban
When bin Laden left
Jalalabad, he ordered many of his followers to join Taliban in their war
against Dostum and to protect Kabul. The unexpected happened. A trap in the
north fooled Taliban troops and Kabul front was exposed to Shah Masood.
Taliban were so disorganized at that stage that it was only those few Arabs
who were there to push Shah Masood off Kabul and they did efficiently.
Face to face with
The leader of Taliban
Mulla Omer was keen to meet Osama. He met him early 1997 after two TV
interviews, Channel 4 and CNN. Mulla Omer expressed respect and admiration
but requested him to have low profile. He stressed that that was a request
and not an order. Osama replied with appreciation and thanks and reassured
Mulla Omer that he was going very low profile.
Another kidnap foiled
Sometime in late 1997
the Americans planned a big operation. The primary plan was for American
Special Forces to attack bin Laden's residence in Qandahar and kidnap him in
a commando style operation. The plan was mocked in Pakistani desert and
proved dangerous. While the Americans were reconsidering the decision, the
news leaked to bin Laden, again through the Pakistani military, and he made
it public. That was published in Al-Quds Al-Arabi in London. The Americans
had no choice but to cancel. Americans acknowledged this incident only
recently, but did not acknowledge the leak.
Lobbying with Ulema
Bin Laden noticed
that the driving force in Taliban were Ulema (religious scholars). He made
very good links with them and lobbied specifically for the subject of
American forces in the Arabian Peninsula. He was able to extract a fatwah
signed by some 40 scholars in Afghanistan sanctioning the use of all means to
expel the American forces from the Peninsula. The issue of that fatwah was an
asset to him inside Taliban domain. He felt that Ulema were at his back and
he can go high profile after long silence.
His second presence
in Afghanistan has attracted many mujahedeen to move there again. Among those
were Ayman El-Zawahery of Egyptian Jihad and Rift'ee Taha of Jama'a Islamia.
There was also new phenomenon during that period. Bin Laden decided to go
pan-Islamic instead of Saudi or Arabic. He attracted Kashmiris, Pakistanis,
Indians, and Muslims from the Soviet Republics. He thought at that stage that
he could make an international alliance against America. In February 1998 he
declared the formation of the International Front. The declaration contained
two elements, formation of the front and a fatwah sanctioning killing
Americans and Jews. Apart from two Arabic newspapers, the declaration had minimal
coverage by the press.
After avoiding the
media for almost a year he decided to open the door wide for them. In April
1998 he received the ABC TV team and two weeks later he held press conference
in Khost and warned of impending attack in few weeks time. Mulla Omer was not
happy with this new media escalation, but felt it difficult to control him
while the scholars protect him. Indeed bin Laden said that he would abide
with what ever the Ulema board decides
The bombings in Kenya
and Tanzania July 1998 were not a big surprise. Yes, it was a surprise but in
terms of choice of location and targets. Despite his declaration of war
against America anywhere, the attack was expected inside Saudi Arabia. Having
said that, it is not [to be taken] for granted that he is behind the bombing.
The American missile
It is not known why
the Americans chose a camp in Khost to retaliate. The camp was an almost
deserted camp where only few Arabs have stayed, with a neighboring camp of
Kashmiris. Bin Laden himself was hundreds of miles away, and the rest of Arab
Afghans were in the northern front celebrating their recent victories.
Since the American
attack bin Laden was put in heavy protection and advised to stay hiding. His
followers made another credit when they protected Kabul front again and
pushed Masood forces back.
bin Laden the person
Bin Laden was brought
up with good manners. He matured as extremely humble and very generous
person. He insists to join his comrades in every act. Very frequently he
cooks for them and serves them. He lives a simple life in a small flat in
Jeddah or in a shed in Afghanistan and insists on his family to eat simple
and to dress simple.
He is known to be
strictly truthful and would never lie, but he is politically conscious and
believes there is a room for political maneuver even if you are devoted
person. Despite being shy he has dominating personality. He speaks very
little and looks serious most of the time. He would appear with a soft smile
but he seldom laughs. His followers see a lot of aura on him and show great
voluntary respect to him. For some reason that falls short of a proper
charisma. He is not known for giving distinguished speeches, and there is
almost no audio or video recording of him.
He is widely educated
and spends a good deal of time reading. He is fond of media monitoring and
information gathering and research. There was always a data management team
with him wherever he went.
Among the outstanding
features is his courage. He will not show a flicker even if a bomb exploded
near him. He was exposed to more than 40 incidents of heavy bombardment,
three of them were full of death and flesh around him. A Scud missile
exploded 17 meters distance from him. At one time he was almost the victim of
chemical weapons. More than once he needed treatment in hospital for body
injuries. Despite this courage he is very cautious person. He would not keep
any electronic instrument close to his vicinity. Some times he even avoids
any device even if it is a simple watch near him because he believes this
might help in targeting him.
He is intelligent and
has reasonable strategic thinking, but he downgrades himself in the presence
of Islamic scholars. He always admires Shiekh Safar al-Hawali and would have
not gone through his current controversial path if al-Hawali was free. Some
people saw him as a man with vision, others doubt it. They think that he
never had clear long term plan. They see the last fatwah as evidence of that.
Relation with Al-Saud
Contrary to what is
always reiterated bin Laden has never had official relations with the Saudi
regime or the royal family. All his contacts would happen through his
brothers. The brothers would approach two members of the royal family who
were fairly sympathetic to Osama. They were Ahmed bin Abdul Aziz, deputy
minister of interior and Abdul Rahman bin Abdul Aziz, deputy minister of
defense. He might have met them in few occasions but those meetings would
have been purely social or accidental in one of his brother's houses.
Specifically he had no relation with Turki al-Faisal head of Saudi
intelligence. He used to be very suspicious of his role in Afghanistan and
once had open confrontation with him in 1991 and accused him of being the
reason of the fight between Afghan factions. He was wary of the Saudi
government very early in the eighties, but he thought it was wiser to keep
silent and benefit from their de facto support to jihad in that period.
Relation with America
Bin Laden has never
had any relation with America or American officials. Claims of relation with
CIA or other American departments are all unfounded. Since the late seventies
he had strong anti-American feeling. He committed himself and family and
advised all friends to avoid buying American goods unless it was necessary.
He was saying very early in the eighties that the next battle is going to be
with America. ... No aid or training or other supports have ever been given
to bin Laden from Americans. Bin Laden would bring money from individuals
donating straight to him. The weapons he had were either captured from the
Soviets or bought from other factions.
Again there were no
official relations with officials in Pakistani government. However, he had
paramount respect by many Pakistanis including people in the army,
intelligence and religious establishment. They were so penetrating that they
would always leak any plan against him by the Pakistani-Saudi-American
His relation with
Taliban would best be understood if Taliban themselves are understood
properly. First of all Taliban are not simply another Afghan faction
supported by Pakistan. Taliban are sincere to their beliefs, a religiously
committed group unspoiled by political tactics. They would never bargain with
what they see as matters of principle. Bin Laden for them is a saint. He is a
symbol of sacrifice for the sake of jihad. They see him as very rich Arab
from the Holy Land who gave up his wealth and luxury to fight for the sake of
his brother Muslims in Afghanistan. They see themselves performing a double
duty here, an Islamic duty of protecting this distinguished person and a
tribal duty of protecting a descent refugee. The latter is a big value in
Afghanistan. Once, a Taliban leader said to a Saudi envoy that if a goat
would seek refuge to my tent I would never hand it over, how on earth do you
want us to hand over a holy man like bin Laden?
There was no argument
within Taliban about handing over bin Laden. There is however some difference
in opinion about how high his media profile should be.
In addition to the
factor of principle, bin Laden had twice had the credit of protecting Kabul
Bin Laden became an
intimate part of Taliban structure when he taught them how to deal with state
affairs in a proper manner. For example, they were to be fooled by some oil
and gas companies and sell the pipeline project for cheap. He advised them to
learn from the Iraq-Turkey and Iraq-Syria agreements. They wanted to
privatize some factories and were about to sell them to Pakistani businessmen
for cheap prices. He taught them how to conduct proper bidding procedure and
guarantee good prices.
Relations with Iran
It is needless to say
that bin Laden has not had any relation with Iran. Iran knows that bin Laden
is a committed Sunni and he regards Iran as Shi'a state. The trust between
the two is minimal but both have avoided criticizing each other publicly.
Having said that, he sees America as common enemy and according to a
Pakistani newspaper he regards an anti-American alliance with Iran and China
as something to be considered.
Bin Laden Followers
bin Laden has two
circles of followers. First are the closed core followers who are related to
him by a chain of command and take orders like a secret organization. Most of
those are probably in Afghanistan. Many are inside Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Somalia
and probably Gulf countries. Like any secret group, those followers would not
disclose their relation. Inside Saudi Arabia many of those would appear like
any average citizen. The number of those is probably in hundreds.
The second circle is
much wider and the number is probably in thousands. They are located in the
same countries. They would look at bin Laden as Godfather but they do not
have proper chain of command or secret links with him. They would regard
themselves obliged to perform some of his general orders. Most of those
followers are not organized and get trapped by the Saudi police fairly
easily. But some are intelligent and make use of the loose nature of their
structure to function without attracting attention.
Before his final
departure from Saudi Arabia, his financial activities were almost copies of
his brothers. Indeed, he is still part of the big mother company. However he
had committed himself at very early stage to a special code, which he
thought, was necessary to guarantee the Islamic nature of this activity. For
example he would never invest in non-Islamic country. He would never use
banks unless it was absolutely necessary. He does not believe in stock market
because he thought the investor couldn’t escape interest since the money has
to be in a bank and produce some interest. He is also preoccupied with the
idea that Jews control banks and stock market.
He had three
setbacks, which would have made him bankrupt otherwise. The first was the
freezing of his direct assets by the Saudi government. All his traceable
money was frozen including his share in the big mother company of bin Laden.
No body knows the exact amount but it was probably in the range of 200-300
The second setback
was the loss he had in Sudan. The Sudanese government was too weak
financially to pay him for the construction projects and he ended up hardly
with 10% of the payment. He lost in Sudan not less than 150 million dollars.
The third setback
happened last year when one of his close aids defected to the Saudi
government. The defector Sidi Tayyib Al-Madani had some financial information
about him until early 1995. Bin Laden knew about the plans of this man to
defect and so had few months to liquidate the few businesses known to this
defector. There was very little trace of those businesses but dismantling
them was not without loss.
There is, however the
other side of the story. Bin Laden is a member of a big family. His father's
financial inheritance has not been sorted. The brothers agreed to keep many
assets of the father and distribute the profits only. Most of the brothers
and sisters are observing Muslims and very keen not to "spoil"
their income with money which is not theirs. They believe it is their duty to
let the owner of any riyal to have it. The only way they guarantee that is by
letting bin Laden's share reach him. Some of the brothers and sisters
believed it was their religious duty to support this distinguished brother
from their own money. While many are very careful not to irritate the royal
family, many more do not care and insist on letting the money reach Osama.
The way bin Laden
family money is structured is very complicated because there is the big
company and there are many small companies of few brothers together, and
there are many individuals with their personal investment. To make the matter
even more complex it is very well known that bin Laden family money is
intimately mixed with the royal family money in a very complex way. Most of
the companies are joint ventures with members of the royal family including
King Fahad himself.
There is another big
source of income to bin Laden, donations. During the early jihad era when it
was blessed by the Saudi regime, he made excellent relations with many
wealthy Saudis and Arabs. It is true that most of those would not support him
now because of the Saudi government position but some do take the risk.
Lastly, bin Laden
activities are not very dependent on money. His followers are not
mercenaries. Training does not cost a lot of money. Explosives and weapons
are very cheap in some parts of the world. In Somalia TNT for example is
cheaper than sugar. In Yemen you can buy an RPG for less than TV set. Many
writers over exaggerate the role of money here.
In the eighties bin
Laden was seen as a star of the Afghan Jihad. He was very much admired and
respected for his sacrifice but he was not seen as a potential leader. Almost
nobody saw leadership ambitions in him at that period. His public image was
so good that the regime used this image to have a boost during early days of
the Gulf War. The regime published a fabricated interview with him in "Al-Muslimoon"
newspaper claiming he supported the regime measures to counteract the Iraqi
In the period between
Iraqi invasion and his reappearance in Afghanistan 1996 he was almost
forgotten by the public. The elite and especially the jihadis were still
admiring him and following up his news. Some even made their way to Sudan to
meet him and offer support. The public were reminded about him by the video
confessions of the group attributed to Riyadh bombing.
After his declaration
of jihad in 1996 his public image had a surge but this time as a leader
rather than a star. There was a lot of controversy about him. In Saudi Arabia
nobody would accuse him of being part of conspiracy but people would differ
about his new program. There was almost a consensus in the Saudi domain on
refusal of American presence in Arabia and many would like the idea of
expelling the Americans by force. Many others had reservations and thought
violence will bring a lot of trouble to the country. Interestingly those who disagreed
with him did not accuse him having personal agenda or looking for personal
This image went on
with occasional boosts by the media until the African bombings. Interestingly
the story of the International Front and fatwah did not attract much
attention. The Kenya Tanzania bombings reminded people of bin Laden. The
media coverage was so overwhelming that the Saudi authorities felt jealous of
bin Laden. People's reaction, however, was mixed. While many felt triumph for
scaring the Americans, many others felt upset by the picture of hundreds of
civilians killed and injured in the attack. They felt that this can never be
The American missiles
then played very strong role in sorting the controversy. After the American
attack on Sudan and Afghanistan it became almost shameful to criticize bin
Laden. People inside Saudi Arabia and in other Arab countries were full of
anger towards America, and whoever can antagonize America would provide a
fulfillment to their desire of discharging their anger. The American strike
with the associated remarks by Clinton and American officials proved that bin
Laden is a big challenge to America. In the mind of average Arab and Muslim
bin Laden appeared as the man who was able to drive America so crazy that it
started shooting haphazardly at unjustified targets.
There was another factor, which
made people forget the scene of civilian victims, the special nature of the
Sudanese factory. Those who had reservations of the African bombings thought
that this arrogance of the Americans is much worse than the embassy bombings.
Their view was that while bin Laden or others can make "executive"
mistake because of their difficult circumstances, logistics and
communication, America is not supposed to do this mistake unless it is done
in purpose. Interestingly the jealousy of the Saudi regime was seen clearly
in the Saudi media when they instructed the Saudi TV and radio not to mention
bin Laden name at all. Even when they reported the American missile attack
the news item was " attack on terrorist base in Afghanistan,