Personal life of Osama bin Laden

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Osama bin Laden, a militant Islamist and founder of al Qaeda in 1988,[1] believed Muslims should kill civilians and military personnel from the United States and allied countries until they withdrew support for Israel and withdrew military forces from Islamic countries.[2][3] He was indicted in United States federal court for his involvement in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Dar es Salaam Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya, and was on the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list.

In 1974, at the age of 18, bin Laden married his first wife Najwa Ghanem at Latakia, Syria.[4][5] Osama bin Laden married at least four other women;[6] he fathered between 20 and 24 children.[7]


Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.[8] In a 1998 interview, Al Jazeera, he gave his birth date as 10 March 1957. His father was Mohammed bin Laden, from Yemen.[9] Before World War I, Mohammed had emigrated from Hadhramaut, on the south coast of Yemen, to the Red Sea port of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he began to work as a porter. Starting his own business in 1930, Mohammed built his fortune as a building contractor for the Saudi royal family during the 1950s.[10] Though there is no definitive account of the number of children born to Mohammed bin Laden, it is generally put at 58.[11] Mohammed bin Laden was married 22 times, although to no more than four women at a time per Sharia law. Osama was the only son of Mohammed bin Laden and his tenth wife, Hamida al-Attas, née Alia Ghanem,[12] who was born in Syria.[13]

Bin Laden's parents divorced soon after he was born, according to Khaled M. Batarfi, a senior editor at the Al Madina newspaper in Jeddah who knew him during the 1970s. Bin Laden's mother then married a man named Muhammad al-Attas, who worked at the bin Laden company. The couple had four children, and bin Laden lived in the new household with three half-brothers and one half-sister.[12] Bin Laden and his family moved to the Al-Musharifah neighborhood of Jeddah several years after he first enrolled at Al-Thager Model School.[14]

Education and politicization[edit]

Brummana High School, circa 1886 – According to some former administrators and students, Osama bin Laden attended Brummana for less than one year

Osama bin Laden was raised as a devout Sunni Muslim.[15] Bin Laden's father ensured that he was regularly attending school. Bin Laden attended schools with some Western curricula and culture. No evidence has been found that he ever received full-time education in a religious madrassa. He was likely educated for some of his primary school years in Syria and that may have been in connection to his mother's frequent visits to Latakia, Syria. By the time bin Laden was an 8th grader, "he was a solid if unspectacular student." His mother remembered that he was "not an A student. He would pass exams with average grades."[16]

In the mid-1960s, around age 10, bin Laden briefly attended Brummana High School, a Quaker institution in Brummana, Lebanon, along with several of his half brothers.[16] Five former administrators and students said he attended for less than a year before returning home; they did not say or recall why he left, but his leaving was not due to poor behavior or grades.[17] Renee Bazz, a former administrative staff member, said that bin Laden went to another school in Lebanon before he attended Brummana.[18] British comedian and journalist Dom Joly claimed on an episode of BBC's Would I Lie To You? that he attended Brummana High School with bin Laden.[19]

He seemed to have stayed in Latakia for a period. He moved back to Jeddah in the following September.[18] From 1968 to 1976 he attended the élite Al-Thager Model School.[20] Bin Laden was probably in the fifth or sixth grade when he began attending Al-Thager.[21] In the 1960s, King Faisal had welcomed exiled teachers from Syria, Egypt, and Jordan, so that by the early seventies it was common to find members of the Muslim Brotherhood teaching at Saudi schools and universities. During that time, bin Laden became a member of the Brotherhood and attended its political teachings during after-school Islamic study groups.[citation needed]

Bin Laden earned a degree in civil engineering in 1979 from King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah. Despite his major subject, at university his main interest was religion; he was involved in both in interpreting the Quran and charitable work.[22] A close friend reports, "we read Sayyid Qutb. He was the one who most affected our generation." [23] Sayyid Qutb himself, author of Ma'alim fi-l-Tariq, or Milestones, one of the most influential tracts on the importance of jihad against all that is un-Islamic in the world,[24] was deceased, but his brother and publicizer of his work, Muhammad Qutb, lectured regularly at the university. So did another charismatic Muslim Brotherhood member, Abdallah Azzam, an Islamic scholar from Palestine who was instrumental in building pan-Islamic enthusiasm for jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan and in drawing Muslims (like Osama) from all over the Middle East to fight there.[25]

Bin Laden was described by University friend Jamal Khalifa as extremely religious. Neither man watched films nor listened to popular music, because they believed such activities went against the teachings of the Qur'an. During his University career he witnessed many world-changing events, especially in 1979. First he watched the Iranian Revolution, in which Ayatollah Khomieini overthrew Iran’s Western supported government to install an Islamist state. Then he saw the seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca by radicals in Saudi Arabia and the Saudi government’s dependent response and reliance on Western power. It was not until the French special forces came in that the government was able to regain control of Mecca’s holiest site. Bin Laden was disgusted with his government’s lack of ability to protect the sacred city, and he began to see the royal family more and more as corrupt. Finally, he ended 1979 ready to fight off the invading Soviets in Afghanistan.

In regard to his Islamic learning, bin Laden was sometimes referred to as a "sheikh," considered by some to be "well versed in the classical scriptures and traditions of Islam",[26] and was said to have been mentored by scholars such as Musa al-Qarni.[27] He had no formal training in Islamic jurisprudence, however, and was criticized by Islamic scholars as having no standing to issue religious opinions (fatwa).

Bin Laden is reported to have married at least five women,[6] although he later divorced the first two. Three of Osama bin Laden's wives were university lecturers, highly educated, from distinguished families. According to Wisal al Turabi, bin Laden married them because they were "spinsters," who "were going to go without marrying in this world. So he married them for the Word of God".[4][5] His known wives were:

  1. Najwa Ghanhem (born 1960), a Syrian, also known as Umm Abdullah (mother of Abdullah).[28] Najwa was "promised" in marriage to bin Laden.[29] Bin Laden married her in 1974 in Latakia in northwestern Syria.[4][5] After the birth of their first son, Abdullah, they moved from his mother's house to a building in the Al-Aziziyah district of Jeddah. She is the mother of Saad bin Laden, as well as at least 10 more children. She co-authored Growing Up bin Laden with her son Omar.[30] Her children did not like life in Khartoum and even less life in Afghanistan.[31] She left bin Laden around 2001, about the same time as his marriage to Amal al-Sadah. She returned to Syria and was last reported living in Latakia.[32] Her father is the brother of bin Laden's mother, Hamida al-Attas (born Alia Ghanem).[29]
  2. Khadijah Sharif (born 1948), also known as Umm Ali (mother of Ali). She was a university lecturer who studied and worked in Saudi Arabia.[33][34] Umm Ali bin Laden spent holidays in Khartoum, Sudan, where bin Laden later settled during his exile in the years 1991 to 1996. According to Wisal al Turabi, the wife of Sudanese politician Hassan Turabi, Umm Ali taught Islam to some families in Riyadh, an upscale neighborhood in Khartoum. According to Abu Jandal, bin Laden's former chief bodyguard, while living in Sudan, Umm Ali asked bin Laden for a divorce because she said that she "could not continue to live in an austere way and in hardship".[4][5]
  3. Khairiah Saber, also known as Umm Hamza (mother of Hamza). A child psychologist with a PhD in Islamic studies,[32] she was reportedly bin Laden's favorite wife, and the most mature, being seven years his senior. She had only one child, a son. Though she had a frail constitution and was not beautiful, she was from "a wealthy and distinguished family," exuded a "regal quality," and "was deeply committed to the jihadi cause".[35] News reports suggest that she was living in bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan at the time of bin Laden's death.
  4. Siham Sabar, also known as Umm Khaled (mother of Khaled). A teacher of Arabic grammar, she kept her university job and commuted to Saudi Arabia during their time in Sudan.[36] News reports suggest that she was living in bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan at the time of bin Laden's death.
  5. Amal Ahmed al-Sadah (born March 27, 1982) was bin Laden's youngest wife.[32] Born Amal Ahmed Abdulfattah in Yemen, she married bin Laden in 2000. The marriage between Amal al-Sadah and bin Laden was apparently part of a "political arrangement" between bin Laden and "an important Yemeni tribe, meant to boost al-Qaeda recruitment in Yemen".[37] Amal al-Sadah was identified as living in the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan at the time of bin Laden's death, along with Siham Sabar and Khairiah Sabar, the other two wives of bin Laden.[38] She was injured in the calf in the raid.[32] Bin Laden commissioned Rashad Mohammed Saeed Ismael to choose the bride and arrange the marriage.[39]

On 27 April 2012, BBC News reported that the three widows as well as eleven children of Osama bin Laden were deported to Saudi Arabia from the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. However, since the youngest of his widows, Amal Ahmed al-Sadah, is a Yemeni, it is believed that she will travel on to Yemen.[40]


Bin Laden fathered between 20 and 24 children.[7] The children of his first wife, Najwa, include Abdallah (born c. 1976), Omar, Saad and Mohammed. His son Mohammed Babrak bin Laden (born c. 1983) married the daughter of the former al-Qaeda military chief Mohammed Atef (also called Abu Haf) in January 2001, at Kandahar.[41]

Appearance and behavior[edit]

The FBI described Osama bin Laden as tall and thin, between 6'4" and 6'6" (193-198 cm) in height and weighing about 165 pounds (75 kg). Interviewees of Lawrence Wright, on the other hand, described him as quite slender, but not particularly tall.[42] He had an olive complexion, was left-handed, and usually walked with a cane. He wore a plain white turban and did not wear the traditional Saudi male headdress, generally white.[43]

In terms of personality, bin Laden was described as a soft-spoken, mild mannered man.[44] His soft voice was also a function of necessity. Interviews with reporters had reportedly left his vocal cords inflamed and bin Laden unable to speak the following day. His bodyguard contended Soviet chemical weapons were to blame for this malady; reporters have speculated that kidney disease was the cause.[45]

The author Adam Robinson has alleged that bin Laden supported Arsenal Football Club, visiting the team's stadium twice when he visited London in 1994.[46]

Bin Laden's "wealth and generosity ... simplicity of ... behaviour, personal charm and ... bravery in battle" have been described as "legendary."[47] According to Michael Scheuer, bin Laden claims to speak only Arabic. In a 1998 interview, he had the English questions translated into Arabic.[48] But others, such as Rhimaulah Yusufzai and Peter Bergen, believe he understood English.[49]

Bin Laden had been praised for his self-denial, despite his great wealth – or former great wealth. While living in Sudan, a lamb was slaughtered and cooked every evening at his home for guests, but bin Laden "ate very little himself, preferring to nibble what his guests left on their plates, believing that these abandoned morsels would gain the favor of God."[50]

Bin Laden was said to have "consciously modeled himself" since childhood "on certain features of the Prophet's life", using "the fingers of his right hand," rather than a spoon when eating, believing it to be sunnah: "the way the Prophet did it, ... choosing to fast on the days that Prophet fasted, to wear clothes similar to those the Prophet may have worn, even to sit and to eat in the same postures that tradition ascribes to him."[51]

At the same time, other actions of his were motivated by concern for appearances. Bin Laden was known for his media savvy, using the Islamic imagery of the cave in Tora Bora "as a way of identifying himself with the prophet in the minds of many Muslims," despite the fact the caves in question were tunnels dug with the modern technology of earth moving machinery to store ammunition.[52] He had dyed his beard to cover the streaks of gray.[53] In 2001 he restaged a recitation of a poem intended for Arab television when he wasn't satisfied with the original video results done before an audience at his son's wedding dinner. The second take, done the next day after the wedding was over, had a handful of supporters crying in praise to simulate the noise of the full room the day before.[54] "His image management extended to asking one of the reporters, who had taken a digital snapshot, to take another picture because his neck was 'too full'".[54]


  1. ^ Michael Scheuer, Through Our Enemies' Eyes, p. 110
  3. ^ "Online NewsHour: Al Qaeda's 1998 Fatwa". PBS. Retrieved 2006-08-21.
  4. ^ a b c d – Articles – Vanity Fair excerpt of the book "The Osama bin Laden I Know"
  5. ^ a b c d "Vanity Fair excerpt of the book "The Osama bin Laden I Know" By Peter Bergen
  6. ^ a b "American Morning With Paula Zahn". CNN. 2001-02-07. Retrieved 2010-04-28.
  7. ^ a b Osama bin Laden – A profile of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden
  8. ^ "frontline: huntio is bin laden?: chronology". PBS. Retrieved 2006-08-21.
  9. ^ "The Osama bin Laden infoplease". Infoplease. Retrieved 2006-08-21.
  10. ^ David Johnson. "Osama bin Laden infoplease". Infoplease. Archived from the original on January 20, 2008. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
  11. ^ 9/11 report
  12. ^ a b Letter From Jedda, Young Osama, How he learned radicalism, and may have seen America, by Steve Coll, The New Yorker Fact, Issue of 2005-12-12, Posted 2005-12-05
  13. ^ " News – The making of The Osama bin Laden". Archived from the original on March 7, 2007. Retrieved August 21, 2006.
  14. ^ Coll, 150.
  15. ^ Beyer, Lisa (September 24, 2001). "The Most Wanted Man In The World". Time. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
  16. ^ a b Coll 140
  17. ^ Coll 140–141
  18. ^ a b Coll 141
  19. ^ Freeman, John (4 April 2008). "A book about the father and family of Osama bin Laden". The Seattle Times.
  20. ^ [quote from Saleha Abedin, a longtime Jeddah educator, now a vice-dean of Jeddah's Dar Al-Hekma College, a private women’s college], – Coll, Steve. "YOUNG OSAMA." The New Yorker Fact. Issue of 2005-12-12. Retrieved on May 7, 2011.
  21. ^ Coll 142.
  22. ^ Wright, Looming Tower, (2006), p.79
  23. ^ Mohammed Jamal Khalifa in Wright, Looming Tower, (2006), p.79
  24. ^ How Did Sayyid Qutb Influence Osama bin Laden?
  25. ^ Kepel, Jihad (2002),[full citation needed] p.145–147
  26. ^ Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden Verso, 2005, p.xvi
  27. ^ Musa al-Qarni on Jihad
  28. ^ The Scotsman: Bin Laden 'fantasised over' Whitney Houston - Last accessed August 26, 2006
  29. ^ a b Bar'el, Zvi (September 12, 2002). "Qaida's Lebanese Hydra". Archived from the original on November 16, 2007. Retrieved October 19, 2007.
  30. ^ Andrew Lee Butters (27 October 2009) Growing Up bin Laden: Osama's Son Speaks Time. Accessed 24 December 2009.
  31. ^ Wright, Looming Tower, (2006), p.194, p.338
  32. ^ a b c d The Guardian 13 May 2011 page 16
  33. ^ The Scotsman
  34. ^ RACHEL WILLIAMS The Scotsman, "Bin Laden 'fantasized over Whitney Houston", 22 August 2006
  35. ^ Wright, Looming Tower, (2006), p.252
  36. ^ Wright, Looming Tower, (2006), p.194
  37. ^ Wright, Looming Tower, (2006), p.338
  38. ^ the CNN Wire Staff. ""U.S. granted access to speak to bin Laden's wives", May 10, 2011,". Retrieved May 11, 2011.
  39. ^ "Osama bin Laden said: 'Find me a wife'", by Tom Finn, The Guardian, May 11, 2011
  40. ^ "Bin Laden wives and children deported to Saudi Arabia". BBC News. April 26, 2012. Retrieved April 27, 2012.
  41. ^ Wright, Looming Tower, (2006), p.333-4
  42. ^ Lawrence Wright, Looming Tower (2006)
  43. ^ "Most Wanted Terrorist – Usama Bin Laden". FBI. Retrieved 2006-06-08.
  44. ^ "'I met Osama Bin Laden'". BBC News. 2004-03-26. Retrieved 2006-05-15.
  45. ^ Wright, Looming Tower (2006), p.263
  46. ^ Robinson, Adam. Bin Laden: Behind the Mask of the Terrorist. Arcade Publishing. pp. 303–4. ISBN 1-55970-640-6.
  47. ^ Kepel, Jihad, (2002),[full citation needed] p.315
  48. ^ "Interview Osama bin Laden". Hunting bin Laden. PBS. May 1998. Retrieved 2007-05-27.
  49. ^ Through Our Enemies' Eyes, Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam and the Future of America, by "Anonymous" aka Michael Scheuer, Brassey's, c2002
  50. ^ interview by Wright with ObL friend Issam Turabi, in Wright, Looming Tower, (2006), p.200, 167
  51. ^ Wright, Looming Tower, (2006), p.200
  52. ^ Wright, Looming Tower, (2006), p.233
  53. ^ Videos destroy aura: Osama rehearsing lines, dyeing beard - The Times of India. Published May 9, 2011. Retrieved 09 May 2012.
  54. ^ a b Wright, Looming Tower, (2006), p.333-4

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