Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden
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Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden was born on the Shafi'i (Sunni) Hadhramaut coast of south Yemen to Awad bin Aboud bin Laden (died 1919), a Kindite Hadhrami tribesman from al-Rubat, a village in Wadi Doan; Mohammed's paternal grandfather was Aboud bin Laden, the grandson of Ali bin Laden, one of four brothers (the others being Ahmed, Mansour, and Zaid) from whom the four bin Laden clans trace their ancestry. His son Osama bin Laden was the notorious founder of al-Qaeda, the Sunni militant Islamist organization.
Poor and uneducated, Mohammed bin Laden emigrated to Tihamah before World War I, initially working as a porter in Jeddah. In 1930, he started his own construction business and after coming to the attention of Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, first monarch of Saudi Arabia, he eventually achieved such success that his family became known as "the wealthiest non-royal family in the kingdom."
Mohammed bin Laden's enormous financial success was ascribed to a shrewd business sense, fealty to Saudi Arabia's rulers, reliability and a willingness to offer the lowest bid on construction contracts.
As the "royal builder," Mohammed bin Laden forged close relationships with the royal family, particularly Prince Faisal of Saudi Arabia. In 1964, Prince Faisal deposed his half-brother, King Saud, and began rebuilding the kingdom after the wasteful excesses of the Saud era. Despite rising oil wealth, the kingdom was fiscally insolvent. King Faisal accepted Mohammed bin Laden's offer of financial assistance to support the national economy and as a reward, King Faisal issued a royal decree awarding all future construction projects to bin Laden's construction company. As a result, bin Laden's company eventually amassed assets in excess of US$5 billion.
He made his initial fortune from exclusive rights to all mosque and other religious building construction in Saudi Arabia and several other Arab countries. Until 1967, Mohammed bin Laden held exclusive responsibility for restorations at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. The Bin Laden Construction company received contracts to build the following projects:
- A $296 million contract with other companies for the construction of a ring freeway around Riyadh.
- A $1.3 billion contract for construction of housing units for the security forces in Jeddah.
- A $1.3 billion contract for similar units for the National Guard at Mecca.
- A $1.1 billion contract for construction of the Kharaj Military City near Riyadh.
- A $1.1 billion contract for the royal palace in Mecca.
- A $4 billion contract for expansion of the holy places in Mecca.
Despite his royal associations and great wealth, Mohammed bin Laden lived a relatively simple and devout life compared to many wealthy Saudis, demanding that his children observe a strict religious and moral code. In his later years, the bin Laden corporate network diversified its activities beyond construction, largely in foreign investment and oil.
On September 3, 1967, Mohammed bin Laden was killed when his company airplane, a Beechcraft, crashed during landing in Oom, 'Asir Province, in southwest Saudi Arabia. He fathered a total of 54 children by 22 wives. Mohammed never had more than four wives at a time—divorcing older wives and marrying new ones as needed to limit the number of current wives to four. According to Carmen bin Ladin, Mohammed was planning to wed a 23rd wife the night he died, and was heading there when his plane crashed.
Following Mohammed bin Laden's death, his eldest sons, principally Salem bin Laden, renamed the organization, "Binladen Brothers for Contracting and Industry" and continued to expand their late father's company until it employed more than 40,000 people.
The Saudi Binladin Group as it is now known, is involved in construction, engineering, manufacturing, and telecommunications. Construction projects include airports, housing complexes, tunnels, and bridges. The group is also involved in city planning and real estate development. The Saudi Binladin Group is Egypt's largest private foreign company and negotiated with the Lebanese government to rebuild part of central Beirut under a US$50 million contract.