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3 The FounderEdit

AT THE AGE OF THIRTY-FOUR, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri was a formidable figure. He had been a committed revolutionary and the leader of an underground Islamist cell for more than half his life. His political skills had been honed by endless prison debates, and he emerged pious, bitter, and determined.

Saudi intelligence says that he arrived in the Kingdom in 1985 on a pilgrimage visa, which he converted to a work visa. He spent about a year practicing medicine in the Ibn al-Nafees clinic in Jeddah. Zawahiri's sister Heba, a professor of oncology at the National Cancer Institute at Cairo University, said that during this period he passed the first part of an examination for a surgery fellowship he was seeking in England. His mother and other members of his family were under the impression that he was planning to return to Cairo eventually, because he continued to pay rent on his clinic in Maadi. His brother Mohammed was also in the Kingdom, working as an architect in Medina.

Zawahiri's attorney, and former prison mate, Montassir al-Zayyat, passed through Jeddah on his way to Mecca, and he found Zawahiri sober and downcast. "The scars left on his body from the indescribable torture he suffered caused him no more pain/7 Zayyat later wrote, "but his heart still ached from it." In Zayyat's opinion, Zawahiri had fled Egypt because the guilt of betraying his friends weighed so oppressively on his conscience. By testifying against his comrades while he was in prison, Zawahiri had lost his claim to leadership of al-Jihad. He was looking for a place where he could redeem himself and where the radical Islamist movement could gain a foothold. "The situation in Egypt had been getting worse," Zawahiri later wrote, "you can say explosive."

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Jeddah was the commercial center of the Kingdom, the port of entry for the millions of pilgrims who passed through on their way to Mecca each year. Every Muslim who is capable of making the journey, called the hajj, is required to do so at least once. Some who remained became the founders of the great banking and merchant families—the bin Mahfouzes, the Alirezas, and Khashoggis among them—who could trace their immigrant roots to Yemen and Persia and Turkey. This cosmopolitan heritage set the city apart from the culturally and ethnically isolated interior. Here, in Jeddah, it was the families, not the tribes, that mattered, and among the handful of names that dominated Jeddah society was that of bin Laden.

Zayyat contends that Zawahiri and bin Laden met in Jeddah, and although there is no record of their first encounter, it is certainly likely. Zawahiri had already been to Afghanistan twice, before prison, and intended to return as soon as possible. The pipeline to Afghanistan ran directly through bin Laden's apartment. Anyone who gave money or volunteered for the jihad would have known the enterprising young Saudi. In any case, they were bound to discover each other sooner or later in the intimate landscape of jihad.

IN ARABIC THE NAME JEDDAH MEANS "grandmother/7 and according to legend the city's name refers to Eve, the grandmother of the human race, who is said to be buried in a spacious walled compound in the working-class neighborhood where Osama bin Laden grew up. In the twelfth century, a cult formed around her supposed tomb, which traced the remains of her giant body, nearly five hundred feet long, marked by a domed shrine where her navel was said to be. Sir Richard Burton visited the grave in 1853 and surveyed the dimensions, remarking, "If our first parent measured a hundred and twenty paces from head to waist, and eighty from waist to heel, she must have presented much the appearance of a duck." The Wahhabis—the creedbound sect that predominates in Saudi Arabia—who condemn the veneration of tombs, knocked the place down in 1928, soon after they occupied Jeddah, and today it is a typical Wahhabi graveyard, with long rows of featureless, unmarked graves like unplanted flower beds. Osama bin Laden's father was buried here after his death in an air crash in 1967 at the age of fifty-nine. One cannot understand the scale of the son's ambition without

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T H E L O O M I N G TOWER appreciating the father's accomplishment. Remote and powerful but humble in manner, Mohammed bin Awahd bin Laden was a legend even before Osama was born. He presented a formidable model to a young man who idolized him and hoped to equal, if not surpass, his achievements. Mohammed had been born in a remote valley in central Yemen. This region, which is called the Hadramout, is known for its ethereal mud-brick towers, like sandcastles, that rise as high as twelve stories. These fantastic constructions have given the Hadramis their reputation as builders and architects. Mainly, however, the Hadramout is famous for the people who have left it. For millennia, they have worn a path through the Empty Quarter of southern Arabia and then along the sere mountains guarding the eastern coast of the Red Sea and into the Hijaz, the land where Islam was born. From there, many of them fanned out into the Levant and southeastern Asia, even into the Philippines, forming a broad fraternity of merchants, businessmen, and contractors. A catastrophic drought in the early 1930s cast thousands of Hadramis out of their country to seek not merely opportunities but existence itself. Mohammed was among them. After spending a brief time in Ethiopia, he took a boat to Jizan, on the southern Arabian coast, and from there he joined a camel caravan to Jeddah. He was twenty-three years old when he arrived. Arabia in 1931 was one of the poorest, most desolate places in the world. It was not yet unified—the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia did not formally come into existence until the following year. The ruler of this fractious desert empire was Abdul Aziz bin Abdul Rahman bin Faisal al-Saud,* who lived in Riyadh, in a modest palace made of mud brick. He had just put down a vicious revolt by a group of religious fanatics called the Ikhwan, a direct predecessor of al-Qaeda. They had once formed Abdul Aziz's own shock troops, massacring thousands of innocent and unarmed villagers in their campaign to purify the peninsula in the name of Islam. The king tried to control the Ikhwan, attempting to prevent their murderous raids from spilling over into neighboring countries. The Ikhwan already detested the king's alliance with Britain and his extravagantly polygamous lifestyle, but they decisively turned against him because of his attempt to bridle jihad, which to them was limitless and obligatory, their duty to God. Abdul Aziz had to get the permission of the religious establishment

  • More familiarly known to Westerners as Ibn Saud.

62 The Founder to rein in the murderous zealots. This was the defining political moment of modern Saudi Arabia. By awarding the king the sole power to declare jihad, the Wahhabi clerics reaffirmed their position as the arbiters of power in a highly religious society. The king finally defeated the Ikhwan's camel-mounted corps with the help of motorcars, machine guns, and British bombers. But the tension between the royal family and religious fanatics was a part of the social dynamic of modern Saudi Arabia from the very beginning. Most Saudis reject the name Wahhabi; they either call themselves muwahhidun—unitarians—since the essence of their belief is the oneness of God, or Salafists, which refers to their predecessors (salaf), the venerated companions of the Prophet. The founder of the movement, Mohammed ibn Abdul Wahhab, was an eighteenth-century revivalist who believed that Muslims had drifted away from the true religion as it had been expressed during the Golden Age of the Prophet and his immediate successors. Among other theological innovations, Abdul Wahhab believed that God clothed Himself in a human form; he rejected the intercessory prayer of saints and expressions of reverence for the dead; and he demanded that Muslim men refuse to trim their beards. He banned holidays, even the Prophet's birthday, and his followers destroyed many of the holy sites, which he considered idols. He attacked the arts as being frivolous and dangerous. He gave a warrant to his followers that they could kill or rape or plunder those who refused to follow his injunctions. Other Muslims in Arabia at the time considered Abdul Wahhab a dangerous heretic. In 1744, driven out of the Najd, the central part of the peninsula, he sought protection from Mohammed bin Saud, the founder of the first Saudi state. Although the Ottomans soon crushed the Saudis, the partnership that was formed with Abdul Wahhab and bin Saud's descendants persevered. The essence of their understanding was that there was no difference between religion and government. Abdul Wahhab's extreme views would always be a part of the fabric of Saudi rule. There was a second Saudi state in the nineteenth century, which quickly fell apart because of family infighting. When Abdul Aziz returned the Saudis to power in the twentieth century for a third time, the doctrines of Abdul Wahhab became the official state religion, and no other forms of Islamic worship were permitted. This was done in the name of the Prophet, who had decreed that there should be only 63 T H E L O O M I N G T O W ER one religion in Arabia. In the blinkered view of the Wahhabis, there was only one interpretation of Islam—Salafism—and that all other schools of Muslim thought were heretical. Mohammed bin Laden's career traced the same gradual then suddenly explosive growth as Saudi Arabia. When he arrived in 1931, the nascent Kingdom was in a state of perilous economic decline. The main source of revenue had been the annual stream of pilgrims coming for hajj in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, but the Great Depression had choked off the flow of pilgrims and devastated even the modest income derived from the export of dates. The country's future promised to be, at best, as dreary and obscure as its past. At the king's desperate invitation, an American geologist, Karl Twitchell, had arrived in April of that same year to probe for water and gold. He would find neither, but he did think there was some potential for oil. Twitchell's discovery opened the way for the partnership that eventually came to be known as the Arabian American Oil Company— Aramco. Over the next few years, a small colony of petroleum engineers and roughnecks set up an oil camp in the Eastern Province. Aramco was a modest enterprise at first, but there was so little economic life in the Kingdom that the company quickly dominated the development of the entire country. Mohammed bin Laden, who had begun as a dockworker in Jeddah, managed to get a job with Aramco, working as a bricklayer in Dhahran. The first great oil boom in the early 1950s ignited the transformation of this barren peninsula. Desert princes who had lived all their lives on dates and camel's milk were suddenly docking their yachts in Monaco. But the wealth wasn't being entirely squandered in the casinos of the Riviera, despite the Saudis' new reputation as international spendthrifts. Foreign contracting giants, especially the American firm Bechtel, brought their behemoth machinery to the Kingdom and set about building the roads and schools and hospitals and ports and power plants that would give the Kingdom the facade of modernity. Aramco commissioned most of these early projects. No country had ever experienced such rapid, overwhelming transformation. Bin Laden's fortunes began to lift as the American engineers, under pressure from the Saudi government to train and hire more local workers, began giving him projects that were too modest for the major firms. He was quickly recognized as an exacting and honest builder. He was a small, handsome man, with one glass eye—the result of a 64 The Founder blow a teacher had given him in his first days of schooling. Bin Laden never returned to school, and as a result he was illiterate—"his signature was like that of a kid/' one of his sons remembered. He was nonetheless brilliant with figures, which he could effortlessly calculate in his head, and he never forgot a measurement. An American who knew him in the 1950s described him as "dark, friendly, and energetic." Aramco began a program that granted employees a leave for a year in order to try their luck in business. If they failed, they could return to the company with no loss in status. The Mohammed bin Laden Company was one of many enterprises that got its start with Aramco sponsorship. Bin Laden insisted on working side by side with his men, which created strong ties of loyalty. "I was raised as a laborer, and I love work and living with the laborers/7 he said. "If it were not for my love of work, I would never have succeeded." He also knew the value of holding a team together, so he would sometimes accept unprofitable projects just to keep his men on the job. They called him miïalim, a word that means both "craftsman" and "teacher." Bin Laden was renovating houses in Jeddah when his work caught the eye of the minister of finance, Sheikh Abdullah bin Suleiman. The minister lauded his skills to King Abdul Aziz. Years later, Osama bin Laden would recall how his father won the favor of the old king, who was now largely confined to his wheelchair and wanted to add a ramp so that his automobile could be driven to his bedroom on the second floor of the Khozam Palace in Jeddah. When Mohammed bin Laden finished the job, he personally drove the king's car up the ramp to show that it would support the weight. In gratitude, the king awarded him contracts to build several new royal palaces, including the first concrete building in Riyadh. Eventually, the king made him an honorary minister of public works. As bin Laden's reputation grew, he became increasingly close to the royal family and responsive to their whims. Unlike those who ran the foreign firms, he was willing to abruptly break off one job to build another, he was patient when the royal treasury was empty, and he never turned down a job. His loyalty was rewarded when a British contractor defaulted on a project to build a highway between Jeddah and Medina; the finance minister gave the job to bin Laden and agreed to pay the same fee that would have been paid to the foreign company. Saudi Arabia needed roads. Even into the fifties, there was only one well-paved road, from Riyadh to Dhahran. Bin Laden looked at his 65 T H E L O O M I N G TOWER giant rival, Bechtel, and realized that without equipment he could never compete for the really important contracts. He began acquiring machinery, and within a very brief span of time he was the largest customer of Caterpillar earth-moving equipment in the world. From now on, he would build nearly every important road in the Kingdom. His old sponsor, Aramco, donated the asphalt free of charge. Bin Laden moved with his family to Jeddah. When Umm Kalthoum, the most popular singer in the Arab world, visited the Prophet's Mosque in Medina, she was alarmed by the creaky columns and the cracks in the vaulted ceilings. She began raising money for repairs, which galled the old king. He ordered bin Laden to fix the problem. The original mosque, made of mud brick and tree trunks, had been constructed in 622 CE. and expanded on several occasions, but it had not been designed to accommodate pilgrims by the millions. Bin Laden tripled the size of the Prophet's Mosque during the first renovation, which got under way in 1950. But that was just the beginning of Mohammed bin Laden's imprint on the holiest places in Islam. One of King Abdul Aziz's sons, Prince Talal, was the finance minister during the renovation of the Prophet's Mosque. He tried to impose some order on the process, but bin Laden was used to working without supervision, keeping his figures in his head and answering to no one but the king. Talal was shocked to find that he had not even filed the proper legal papers to begin construction. "We have to organize this!" Talal complained. Bin Laden refused. He said he would do it his way or walk off the job. Prince Talal decided to create a council, nominally headed by the king himself, to oversee the renovation. Then he offered to put bin Laden on the council. "It was not really correct for him to be a part of the same body that was supposed to supervise him," Talal admitted. "Fortunately, he agreed. If I had stood my ground against him, the king would have asked me to leave and kept bin Laden." After the death of Abdul Aziz in November 1953, he was succeeded by Saud, his eldest son, who set a standard for wasteful extravagance, creating a new Saudi stereotype almost single-handedly as he rode through the sandy streets throwing money into the air. The restraints, such as they were, against royal opportunism dropped away as members of the royal family muscled their way into all the contracts, commissions, concessions, and franchises they could get their hands on, 66 The Founder despite the fact that they were already being lavishly supported by the oil allowances they awarded themselves. It was, however, a wonderful time to be in the construction business. King Saud was on a building spree—palaces, universities, pipelines, desalination plants, airports—and bin Laden's company was growing at a fantastic rate. In 1984 the seat of government moved from Jeddah to Riyadh, which involved building an entire bureaucratic complex, as well as the embassies, hotels, residences, and highways that would accompany the new capital. The treasury was so overextended that the government had to pay bin Laden by giving him the Hotel al-Yamama, one of the two five-star hotels in Riyadh at the time. Through clever alliances with powerful foreign corporations, bin Laden began diversifying. Binladen Kaiser became one of the largest engineering and construction companies in the world. Binladen Emco manufactured pre-cast concrete for mosques, hotels, hospitals, and stadiums. Al-Midhar Binladen Development Company provided consulting for foreign companies seeking entry into the Saudi market. Bin Laden Telecommunications Company represented Bell Canada, which got the plum government contracts in this field. Saudi Traffic Safety, another joint venture, was the largest highway-lane-marking company in the world. The empire grew to include manufacturing plants for brick, doors, windows, insulation, concrete, scaffolding, elevators, and air conditioners. It was during this period that the monumental, almost Stalinesque Saudi architectural style began to assert itself. The immense, sometimes intimidating spaces fashioned of pre-stressed concrete announced the arrival in history of a new great power. And it was the Saudi Binladin Group,* as the company came to be called, that defined this colossal and highly ornamental aesthetic, which reached its apogee in the renovation of the Grand Mosque in Mecca—the most prestigious construction contract that could ever be granted in the Kingdom. Surrounded by the lunar foothills of the al-Sarawat escarpment, which shield the city from the eyes of nonbelievers, Mecca arose at the intersection of two ancient caravan routes and served as a depot for The company styles the name slightly differently in variant English renderings, as do members of the family. 67 T H E L O O M I N G TOWER silk, spices, and perfumes from Asia and Africa on their way to the Mediterranean. Even before the advent of Islam, this important trading center was esteemed as a holy site by virtue of the empty cubical building called the Kaaba. In Muslim tradition, the Kaaba is the center of the planet, the focus of all Muslim prayer. It is said that Adam laid the first stone and that the structure was rebuilt by the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham in the Jewish and Christian traditions) and his son Ishmael, the forefather of the Arabs, using the gray-blue rock from the enclosing hills. Thus Mohammed bin Laden joined hands with the first man and the progenitor of monotheism. The renovation of the Grand Mosque took twenty years. Mohammed bin Laden would not live to see it finished; indeed, the Saudi Binladin Group would renovate both the Grand Mosque and the Prophet's Mosque a second time, at a total cost of more than $18 billion. Bin Laden's original plan for the Grand Mosque is a masterwork of crowd management, with forty-one main entrances, bathroom facilities for 1,440 people, and escalators that can transport 100,000 people per hour. Two wide galleries of arches enclose a gargantuan open courtyard. During hajj, the mosque can accommodate a million worshippers at once. Nearly every surface—even the roof—is made of marble, lending the building a final touch of cool, impersonal, formidable splendor—the universal mark of modern Saudi religious architecture. King Saud's rule was disastrous in so many ways that, in 1958, Crown Prince Faisal effectively seized control of the government. He later said that when he took over there was less than a hundred dollars in the treasury. He couldn't meet the payroll or pay the interest on the Kingdom's debt. The National Commercial Bank turned down Faisal's application for a loan, citing King Saud's miserable credit record. While the crown prince shopped for another institution willing to bail out the government, Mohammed bin Laden quietly fronted the money, a gesture that sealed the ties between the bin Ladens and the royal family, and particularly between Faisal and his chief builder. MOHAMMED BIN LADEN was one of the first people to view the country from above, rather than from the more modest vantage of the camel's back. He received special permission from the king to fly, an activity prohibited for private citizens, so he could survey his far-flung projects from the air. Most of his pilots were from the American mili- 68 The Founder tary, which had begun training Saudi forces in 1953. The country is as big as the eastern half of the United States, but in the 1950s one could still fly from the Persian Gulf—or the Arabian Gulf, as the Arabs call it—to the Red Sea without seeing a single mark of civilization except for the occasional Mercedes trucks crisscrossing the desert floor along elusive caravan tracks. The imposing dunes flatten out and the wadis become dim tracings in the bright, buttery sand. There are no rivers, no large bodies of water, few trees. Development was confined largely to the oil fields in the salt flats of the Eastern Province. The entire lower portion of the country, an area the size of France, is called the Empty Quarter—a great forbidding vacancy, the largest sand desert in the world. Flying over the middle of the country, one sees a featureless graveled plain. In the northern section, the few pilots operating at the time would fly low to view the ruins of the Hijaz railroad, which the Arab forces, led by T. E. Lawrence, destroyed in the First World War. As one flies west, however, the earth suddenly lurches up, forming the al-Sarawat Range, a steep mountain barrier that stretches a thousand miles, from Jordan to the southern coast of Yemen. There are peaks within the range over ten thousand feet high. The al-Sarawat escarpment divides the country into unequal halves, with the slender western portion, the cosmopolitan Hijaz, squeezed into the space between the mountains and the Red Sea, effectively cutting it off from the vastness and the radical spirituality of the interior. Like a sentry on the mountain rim stands the ancient summer resort of Taif. It is different from any other place in Arabia. The breeze from the Red Sea collides with the mountain barrier, creating a cooling updraft, which bathes the high plateau in fog and sudden violent rains. In the winter, there are occasional freezes. Before Islam, the region was noted for its vineyards, and later for its prickly pears and fruit trees—peaches, apricots, oranges, and pomegranates. Roses from Taif have such a potent aroma that they are used to make prized perfumes. Mountain lions once stalked herds of Arabian oryx in fields of wild lavender, but when the lions were hunted to near extinction, the local population of hamadryas baboons boomed out of control, roaming the upper reaches like a horde of demanding beggars. It was to Taif, surrounded by the cool gardens and the scent of eucalyptus, that the old king, Abdul Aziz, went to die, in November 1953. Twice it has been Taif's unfortunate fate to stand in the way of the consolidation of Arabia, first spiritually and then politically. In 630 C.E., 69 T H E L O O M I N G TOWER the Prophet Mohammed laid siege to the walled city, which until then had resisted his authority. The Muslim forces gained permission from their leader to use a catapult to breach the city's defenses despite the fact that women and children would be harmed. (Later, al-Qaeda would use this precedent to justify the killing of noncombatants on September 11, likening the use of airplanes to that of the catapult so long ago.) In that instance, the siege failed and Mohammed withdrew from the city, but within the year the town's leaders converted to Islam and the last outpost of paganism fell. Then again, in 1924, when Abdul Aziz was waging his campaign to unify Arabia, the city surrendered to the Ikhwan, only to see the town pillaged and more than three hundred men slaughtered, their throats slit, their corpses thrown into the public wells. With the fall of Taif, the rest of the Hijaz lay open to the Saudi forces. In the aftermath of that massacre, Faisal, who was then one of the teenage warrior sons of Abdul Aziz, led the Saudis down the precipitous caravan trail that spiraled toward Mecca. He had a vision at the time that one day a genuine road would connect the Hijaz with the nation that his family was forging, however bloodily Until Faisal became king, however, a road to Taif remained an unattainable dream. The sheer mountain wall defied even the most muscular and sophisticated approaches of modern construction. A path could be blasted through the rock, but there was still the strategic problem of getting equipment to the site—the excavators, bulldozers, backhoes, dump trucks, and graders necessary for modern construction. Otherwise, the road would have to be built almost like a tunnel, with one segment completed before the next could be started. Faisal invited many foreign companies to bid on the project, but none of them could figure out how to do it, even with an extravagant budget. Then bin Laden offered to build the road. He even provided a timetable. Bin Laden's brilliant solution for getting the equipment to the site was to disassemble the giant machines and mount the pieces on the backs of donkeys and camels. Once in place, the bulldozers and tractors were put back together and set to work. In Taif, there is a legend that to establish the route, bin Laden pushed a donkey over the edge of the mountain and followed him as he picked his way down the course of the future highway. For twenty months, beginning in 1961, he lived with his men on the side of the mountain, personally setting the dynamite charges and marking the 70

The Founder path for the bulldozers with chalk. Despite his timetable, work went slowly. Occasionally King Faisal would arrive at the site to inquire about the mounting unbudgeted expenses. The two-lane road that bin Laden built tiptoes down the granite escarpment in long winding loops, past the circling raptors, through geological time zones. In the distance, the Red Sea underscores the horizon; just beyond lies the barren shore of Sudan. The craftsmanship of the workers is evident in the stone walls and bridges that echo the caravan trail nearby. About two-thirds of the way down the mountain, the granite turns into basalt, and then to sandstone; the road widens into four lanes and becomes less headlong; and then finally the highway breaks free, six lanes now, on the yellow desert floor. The road from Taif to Mecca is only fifty-five miles; when it was completed, Saudi Arabia was finally united, and Mohammed bin Laden became a national hero. IT IS THE CUSTOM IN THE KINGDOM THAT, during the fasting month of Ramadan, beggars bring their petitions to the princes and the wealthy members of society; it's a particularly intimate and direct expression of charity. Mohammed bin Laden was known to be pious and openhanded. He paid for the operation in Spain of a man who had lost his sight. On another occasion, a man sought his help in building a well for his village. Bin Laden not only provided the well, he also donated a mosque. He avoided the publicity that usually attends such notable gifts, saying that his intention was to please God, not to gain fame. "What I remember is that he always prayed on time and would inspire people around him to pray," his son Osama once recalled. "I do not remember him ever doing anything outside of Islamic law." The extravagant side of Mohammed bin Laden's nature made itself evident when it came to women. Islam permits a man four wives at a time, and divorce is a simple matter, at least for a man, who only needs to declare, "I divorce you." Before his death, Mohammed bin Laden officially had fathered fifty-four children from twenty-two wives. The total number of wives he procured is impossible to determine, since he would often "marry" in the afternoon and divorce that night. An assistant followed behind to take care of any children he might have left in his wake. He also had a number of concubines, who stayed in the bin Laden compound if they bore him children. "My father used to say 7 i T H E L O O M I N G TOWER that he had fathered twenty-five sons for the jihad," his seventeenth son, Osama, later remembered. Mohammed had already taken a Syrian wife from the port of Latakiya in the early fifties. He went to the region frequently on business, and in the summer of 1956 he met a fourteen-year-old girl named Alia Ghanem. Her family were citrus farmers living in two small villages outside the port, called Omraneya and Babryon. The region is a center of the Alawite sect, a branch of Shia Islam that claims 1.5 million adherents in Syria, including the ruling Assad family. Within Islam, the Alawites are often denigrated as a cult since they incorporate certain Christian, Zoroastrian, and pagan elements into their beliefs. They subscribe to the notion of reincarnation, believing that upon death a person may be transformed into another being or even a star. They also practice taqiyya, or religious dissimulation—denying, for instance, that they are members of the sect to outsiders so they can blend into the mainstream. Alia joined bin Laden's household as the fourth wife—a position that is sometimes called the "slave wife/' especially by the wives with more tenure. It must have been all the more difficult for a girl of fourteen, taken from her family and placed in the highly restricted environment that bin Laden imposed. By comparison with the other wives, Alia was modern and secular, although like all of bin Laden's wives she was fully veiled in public, not even letting her eyes show through the several layers of black linen. Mohammed bin Laden and Alia's only child was born in Riyadh in January 1958, named Osama, "the Lion," after one of the companions of the Prophet. When he was six months old, the entire extended family moved to the holy city of Medina, where bin Laden was beginning renovation of the Prophet's Mosque. For most of Osama's young life, however, he lived in Jeddah. Though his father was by now prosperous and esteemed, the family occupied a large, ramshackle house in al- Amariyya, a modest neighborhood with small shops and lines of laundry hanging off the balconies. It was Jeddah's first suburb, built just outside the boundary of the old city walls. The house is gone now, replaced by a mosque, but Mohammed bin Laden's office across the street still stands—a dingy, one-story stucco building with a long row of barred windows. It bespeaks the modesty of a man who despised the show of wealth that was so characteristic of the newly rich nation. "Rest his soul, my father was very strict, and he would pay no atten- 72 The Founder tion to appearances/7 Osama said. "Our house was of a lower standard than most of the houses of the people working for us/' Osama spent his early years among a horde of children in his father's house. Mohammed ran the family like a corporation, with each wife reporting on her division. The children rarely saw the great man, who was often away on business. Whenever he returned, he would call them into his office and gaze upon his vast brood. During the Islamic feasting days, he would kiss them and give each child a gold coin; otherwise, he rarely spoke to them. "I remember reciting a poem to him, and he gave me a hundred riyals, which was a huge amount of money in those days/' Osama remembered. The children sought to either please him or run from him. It is not surprising that the remote and powerful father stirred deep currents of longing in his shy and willowy son, even though their exchanges were rare. Mohammed frequently entertained distinguished male guests in his modest home, especially during the hajj, when pilgrims from all over the world passed through Jeddah on their way to worship at the holy sites. In typical Saudi manner, the men would sit barefoot on the carpeted floor, resting one arm against a bolster, as Mohammed's younger sons passed wordlessly among them, serving dates and pouring weak cardamom coffee from long-spouted silver pots. The patriarch enjoyed religious debates, and he would bring together the most notable clerics in the Kingdom to discuss often very obscure points of theology. By now, the bin Laden construction empire extended well beyond Saudi Arabia. One of Mohammed's major projects outside the Kingdom was the renovation of the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, which meant that the three holiest spots in Islam all bore his mark. "He gathered his engineers and asked them to estimate the cost of the project, without profit," Osama later stated. "Because of God's graciousness to him, sometimes he prayed in all three mosques in one single day." Mohammed bin Laden had a custom of marrying off ex-wives who had borne him children to employees of his company. The wives had little or no say in the matter. They sometimes found themselves marrying below what they now considered their station—to a driver, for instance—an arrangement that influenced the future standing of their children in the family. Alia was fortunate when Mohammed decided to divorce her. He awarded her to one of his executives, Mohammed al-Attas, who was a descendant of the Prophet. Osama was four or five years old. He moved with his mother a few blocks away, to a modest 73 T H E L O O M I N G TOWER two-story villa on Jabal al-Arab Street. The house was white stucco with a small courtyard and a black filigree iron gate in front of the garage. On top of the flat roof was a towering television antenna. Over one of the front entrances there was a brown-and-white-striped awning—the doorway that women used; the men entered through the gate into the courtyard. Soon after Osama moved to the new house, Mohammed bin Laden died in a plane crash on his way to take another teenage bride. His body was so charred he could only be identified by his wristwatch. At the time of his death, Mohammed was still an active, vigorous man, not yet sixty years old, at the peak of his astonishing career. "King Faisal said upon the death of my father that today I have lost my right arm," Osama once remarked. Mohammed's sons were not yet old enough to take control of the family enterprise, so the king appointed three trustees who ran the company for the next ten years. One of the men, Sheikh Mohammed Saleh Bahareth, also oversaw the education of bin Laden's children. Their inheritance was withheld until they were twenty-one—and in any case, most of the value was tied up in the ownership of the construction empire their father had created. THE MARRIAGE BETWEEN ALIA and her second husband proved to be an enduring match. Attas was kind and calm, but his relation to his stepson was somewhat compromised by the fact that Osama was the child of his employer. As for Osama, he went from being in a house full of children to one in which he was the only child. Eventually three younger half brothers and a half sister would be born, and Osama oversaw them almost as a third parent. "If his stepfather wanted something done, he would tell Osama," remembered Khaled Batarfi, who lived across the street and became his childhood companion. "His brothers say they didn't fear their father as much as they did Osama." Only with his mother did Osama let down his mask of authority. "She was the only person he would talk to about the small things," said Batarfi, "like what he had for lunch today." Khaled Batarfi and Osama bin Laden were from the same large tribe, the Kendah, which has as many as 100,000 members. The tribe had originated in the Najd, the heart of the Kingdom, but then had migrated into the Hadramout in Yemen. "The Kendah are known to be bright," 74 The Founder said Batarfi. "Usually they are fighters, well armed, and they have an air about them." Khaled found his new playmate "calm, shy, almost girlish. He was peaceful, but when he was angry, he was frightening." Osama enjoyed television, especially westerns. Bonanza was his favorite show, and he adored Fury, a series about a boy and his silky black stallion. On summer mornings, after the dawn prayer, the boys would play soccer. Osama was an average player who could have been better if he had concentrated on the sport. But his mind was always somewhere else. After the death of Mohammed bin Laden, the trustee sent most of the sons to Lebanon for their education. Only Osama remained behind, which would always mark him as the most provincial of the bin Laden boys. This was despite the fact that he enrolled in Jeddah's best school, called al-Thagr, on the road to Mecca. King Faisal had created the school in the early fifties for the education of his own sons. It was a free public school, but the standards were extremely high and the rector reported directly to the king. Students could gain admission only by passing a highly competitive examination. The goal was to have all classes of Saudi society represented, entirely on the basis of merit. This policy was so strictly adhered to that several sons of King Khalid were booted out while he was still on the throne. Osama was a member of a class of sixty-eight students, only two of whom were members of the royal family. Fifty of his classmates went on to gain their doctorates. "He was a normal, not excellent, student," said Ahmed Badeeb, who taught Osama science courses for three years. The lives of these two men, bin Laden and Badeeb, would intertwine in unexpected ways in the future, as bin Laden was drawn to jihad and Badeeb became a member of Saudi intelligence. All of the students dressed in Western clothes—a jacket and tie during the winter, pants and shirt during the rest of the school year. Osama stood out because he was tall and gangly and physically slow to mature. As his classmates began sporting moustaches and goatees, bin Laden remained clean-shaven because his beard was so light. His teachers found him shy and fearful of making mistakes. In Osama's fourteenth year he experienced a religious and political awakening. Some ascribe the change to a charismatic Syrian gym teacher at the school who was a member of the Muslim Brothers. Osama stopped watching cowboy shows. Outside of school, he refused to wear Western dress. Sometimes he would sit in front of the 75 T H E L O O M I N G TOWER television and weep over the news from Palestine. "In his teenage years, he was the same nice kid," his mother later related. "But he was more concerned, sad, and frustrated about the situation in Palestine in particular, and the Arab and Muslim world in general." He tried to explain his feelings to his friends and family, but his passion left them nonplussed. "He thought Muslims are not close enough to Allah, and Muslim youth are too busy playing and having fun," his mother concluded. He began fasting twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays, in emulation of the Prophet. He went to bed right after isha, the evening prayer. In addition to the five prayers a day, he set his alarm for one in the morning and prayed alone every night. Osama became quite stern with his younger half siblings, especially about rising early to go to the mosque for the dawn prayer. He was rarely angry except when sexual matters came up. When he thought one of his half brothers was flirting with a maid, Osama slapped him. Another time, when he was in a café in Beirut, one of his brother's friends produced a porno magazine. Osama made it clear that neither he nor any of his brothers would ever have anything to do with the boy again. There seems never to have been a moment in his entire life when he gave way to the sins of the flesh, venal or ribald behavior, the temptations of liquor, smoking, or gambling. Food held little interest for him. He loved adventure and poetry and little else but God. Osama's mother watched the evolution of his religious convictions with alarm. She confided her anxiety to her younger sister, Leila Ghanem. "In the beginning of his path, being his mother, she was very concerned," her sister later said. "When she saw that this was his conviction, something he would not budge from, she said, 'God protect him.' " On one occasion, Osama was riding with his family to Syria, to visit his mother's relatives, which they did every summer. The driver put on a cassette tape of the Egyptian diva Umm Kalthoum. Her powerful vibrato was so expressive of love and longing that it often brought her listeners to tears or involuntary gasps of desire. The lyrics called up the ancient verses of the desert bards: You are more precious than my days, more beautiful than my dreams Take me to your sweetness, away from the universe Far, far away 76 The Founder Osama flared up. He ordered the driver to turn it off. The driver refused. We are paying you," Osama reminded him. "If you don't shut the music off right now, you can take us back to Jeddah!" Everyone else in the car, including his mother and his stepfather, was silent in the face of Osama's anger. The driver relented. His intransigent piety was unusual in his elevated social circle, but many young Saudis found refuge in intense expressions of religiosity. Exposed to so few alternative ways of thinking even about Islam, they were trapped in a two-dimensional spiritual world; they could only become more extreme or less so. Extremism had its consolations, as it always does; in Osama's case, it obviously shielded him from his teenage sexual urges. There was also in his nature a romance with the spirituality of the desert, humble and stripped of distraction. Throughout his life, he would hunger for austerity like a vice: the desert, the cave, and his as yet unspoken desire to die anonymously in a trench in warfare. But it was difficult to hold on to this self-conception while being chauffeured around the Kingdom in the family Mercedes. At the same time, Osama made an effort not to be too much of a prig. Although he was opposed to the playing of musical instruments, he organized some of his friends into an a cappella singing group. They even recorded some of their tunes about jihad, which for them meant the internal struggle to improve themselves, not holy war. Osama would make copies and give them each a tape. When they played soccer, Osama would bring along tuna and cheese sandwiches for the other players, even on days when he was fasting. His commitment and composure commanded respect. Out of modesty, he stopped wearing regular soccer shorts and took to playing in long pants. In deference to his beliefs, the other players followed suit. They would often go to play in the poorer districts of Jeddah. During lunch, even if he was fasting, Osama would divide his teammates into different groups, named after companions of the Prophet, and quiz them on the Quran. "The Abu Bakr group wins!" he would exclaim. "Now, let's have cakes." He had an adventurous adolescence—mountain climbing in Turkey and big-game hunting in Kenya. On his family farm south of Jeddah, Osama kept a stable of horses, having as many as twenty at one time, including his favorite, a mare named al-Balqa. He liked to ride and shoot, just like the cowboys on his favorite television shows. Osama began driving early, and he drove fast. In the mid-seventies, 77 T H E L O O M I N G TOWER when he was sixteen or seventeen, he had a big white Chrysler that he accidentally ran into a culvert and destroyed. Amazingly, he was unhurt. After that, however, he made an effort to slow down. He began driving a Toyota jeep and a Mercedes 280S—the kind of car a respectable Saudi businessman would drive. But he still had trouble keeping his foot off the gas. His science teacher, Ahmed Badeeb, noticed the change in his strong-willed young student. "At this time, Osama was trying to prove himself within the company," said Badeeb. "There is a law in the bin Laden family that if you prove yourself as a man, you can inherit." The Saudi Binladin Group had a contract for a large project in Jizan, near the Yemen border, and Osama badly wanted to be a part of it. "I decided to drop out of school to achieve my goals and dreams," bin Laden later related. "I was surprised at the major opposition to this idea, especially from my mother, who cried and begged me to change my mind. In the end, there was no way out. I couldn't resist my mother's tears. I had to go back and finish my education." In 1974, while he was still in high school, Osama married for the first time. He was seventeen, she was fourteen—Najwa Ghanem, his cousin from his mother's village in Syria. She was unusually tall and quite beautiful. There was a small wedding party for the men in Osama's house, who never got to see the bride. Bin Laden's future sister-in-law, Carmen, described Najwa as meek and "constantly pregnant." It was also during this time, in high school, that bin Laden joined the Muslim Brothers. The organization was very much an underground movement in Saudi Arabia in the 1970s. "Only nerds were in it," a fellow member recalled. The members were highly religious teenagers like bin Laden, and although they were not actively conspiring against the government, their meetings were secret and took place in private homes. The group sometimes went together on pilgrimages to Mecca, or on outings to the beach, where they would proselytize and pray. "We were hoping to establish an Islamic state anywhere," said Jamal Khashoggi, a friend of bin Laden's who joined the Brotherhood at about the same time. "We believed that the first one would lead to another, and that would have a domino effect which could reverse the history of mankind." Bin Laden entered King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah in 1976. He studied economics, but he was more involved in campus religious affairs. "I formed a religious charity at school, and we devoted a lot of time to interpreting the Quran and jihad," he later said. 78 The Founder In his first year in the university, bin Laden met Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, another member of the Brotherhood, who would become his closest friend. Jamal Khalifa was a year older than bin Laden. A gregarious young man with an easy smile, Khalifa came from a family of modest means, although he was able to trace his lineage back to the Prophet, which gave him a standing in Islamic society quite apart from his financial status. He and Osama played soccer together. Bin Laden, being tall and fast, was the striker, always in front. The two young men soon became inseparable. On weekends, they would head out into the desert between Jeddah and Mecca, usually staying at the bin Ladens' family farm, an oasis called al-Barood. To keep the Bedouins from homesteading on his property, bin Laden erected a small cabin, little more than a kitchen and a toilet, and began farming. He kept a small herd of sheep and a stable of horses. Even in the summer he would cast off his shoes as soon as he arrived and walk barefoot through the scorching sand. Osama was very stubborn," Khalifa said. "We were riding horses in the desert, and we were really going very fast. I saw fine sand in front of us, and I told Osama this is dangerous, better stay away. He said no, and he continued. His horse turned over and he fell down. He got up laughing. Another time, we were riding in a jeep. Whenever he saw a hill, he would drive very fast and go over it, even though we didn't know what was on the other side. Really, he put us in danger many times." It was a time of spiritual questioning for both of them. "Islam is different from any other religion; it's a way of life," said Khalifa. "We were trying to understand what Islam has to say about how we eat, who we marry, how we talk. We read Sayyid Qutb. He was the one who most affected our generation." Many of the professors at the university were members of the Brotherhood who had been run out of Egypt or Syria. They had brought with them the idea of a highly politicized Islam, one that fused the state and the religion into a single, allencompassing theocracy. Bin Laden and Khalifa were drawn to them because they seemed more open-minded than the Saudi scholars and were willing to lead them to the books that would change their lives, such as Qutb's Milestones and In the Shade of the Quran. Each week, Mohammad Qutb, the younger brother of the martyr, would lecture at the school. Although bin Laden never formally studied with Qutb, he usually attended his public lectures. Qutb was extremely popular with 79 T H E L O O M I N G TOWER the students, who noted his calm demeanor despite the fact the he had also endured the rigors of Nasser's prisons. At that moment Mohammed Qutb was jealously defending his brother's reputation, which was under attack from moderate Islamists. They contended that Milestones had empowered a new, more violent group of radicals, especially in Egypt, who used Sayyid Qutb's writings to justify attacks on anyone they considered an infidel, including other Muslims. Foremost among Qutb's critics was Hasan Hudaybi, the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brothers, who published his own prison book, Preachers Not Judges, to counter Qutb's seductive call to chaos. In Hudaybi's far more orthodox theology, no Muslim could deny the belief of another so long as he made the simple profession of faith: "There is no God but God, and Mohammed is His messenger." The debate, which had been born in the Egyptian prisons with Qutb and Hudaybi, was quickly spreading throughout Islam, as young Muslims took sides in this argument about who is a Muslim and who is not. "Osama read Hudaybi's book in 1978, and we talked about it," Jamal Khalifa recalled. "Osama agreed with him completely." His views would soon change, however, and it was this fundamental shift—from Hudaybi's tolerant and accepting view of Islam to Qutb's narrow and judgmental one—that would open the door to terror. That same year, Osama and Najwa's son Abdullah was born. He was the first of their eleven children, and following Arab tradition, the parents came to be called Abu (the father of) Abdullah and Umm (the mother of) Abdullah. Unlike his own father, Osama was attentive and playful with his children—he loved to take his quickly expanding family to the beach—but he was also demanding. He had unyielding ideas about the need to prepare them for the tough life ahead. On the weekends, he brought both his sons and his daughters with him to the farm to live with camels and horses. They would sleep under the stars, and if it was cold, they would dig and cover themselves with sand. Bin Laden refused to let them attend school, instead bringing tutors into the house, so he could supervise every detail of their education. "He wanted to make them tough, not like other children," said Jamal Khalifa. "He thought other kids were spoiled." Bin Laden's second son, Abdul Rahman, was born with a rare and poorly understood birth defect called hydrocephalus, commonly called water on the brain. It results from an excess of cerebrospinal fluid building up inside the neural ventricles, which in turn causes the 80 The Founder head to enlarge and the brain to shrink. After birth, the head continues to expand unless the fluid is drained. Abdul Rahman's condition was so serious that bin Laden himself took the baby to the United Kingdom for treatment—probably the only time that he traveled in the West. When the doctors told him that Abdul Rahman would need a shunt in his brain, bin Laden declined to let them operate. Instead, he returned to the Kingdom and treated the child himself, using honey, a folk remedy for many ailments. Unfortunately, Abdul Rahman became mildly retarded. As he grew older, he was prone to emotional outbursts. He had difficulty fitting in with the other children, especially in the robust outdoor life that bin Laden prescribed for them; often he would cry for attention or provoke fights if things weren't going as he wanted them to. Nonetheless, bin Laden always insisted on including Abdul Rahman, taking special care to make sure he was never left alone. JAMAL KHALIFA also wanted to marry. The custom, in Saudi Arabia, is for the groom to pay a bride price and furnish a home before the wedding takes place. Khalifa found a suitable young woman, but he didn't have enough money to provide an apartment. Bin Laden owned a lot near the university, and he built a small home for his friend. Unfortunately, it was too spartan for Khalifa's bride. Bin Laden did not take offense; indeed, he made an even more generous gesture. At that time, he was living in his mother's house with his stepfather and their children. Osama and his family occupied the first floor, which he divided in half by building a wall through the middle of the living room; then he invited Khalifa and his bride to move in. "You live on this side, and I'll live on the other," bin Laden said. Khalifa and his wife lived there until he graduated from King Abdul Aziz University in 1980. While they were still in the university, Osama and Jamal made a resolution. They decided to practice polygamy. It had become socially unacceptable in Saudi Arabia. "Our fathers' generation was using polygamy in not a very good way. They would not give equal justice to their wives," Khalifa admitted. "Sometimes they would marry and divorce in the same day. The Egyptian media used to put this on television, and it made a very bad impression. So, we said, 'Let's practice this and show people we can do it properly' " In 1982 bin Laden set an example by marrying a woman from the Sabar family in Jeddah who 81 T H E L O O M I N G TOWER was descended from the Prophet. She was highly educated, with a Ph.D. in child psychology, and taught at the women's college of King Abdul Aziz University. Seven years older than Osama, she bore him one child, a son, and became known as Umm Hamza. Managing two families wasn't easy, but bin Laden wasn't discouraged. He developed a theory of multiple marriages. "One is okay, like walking. Two is like riding a bicycle: it's fast but a little unstable. Three is a tricycle, stable but slow. And when we come to four, ah! This is the ideal. Now you can pass everyone!" He bought a run-down four-unit apartment building on the corner of Wadi as-Safa Street and Wadi Bishah, about a mile from his mother's home. The units were in alternating gray and peach colors, and each had window air-conditioning units. There used to be an old pasta factory nearby, and because street numbers are rarely used in the Kingdom, bin Laden's new dwelling got to be known as the house on Macaroni Street. He put his two families in separate units. He married again a few years later a woman from the Sharif family in Medina, who was also highly educated—she held a doctorate in Arabic grammar and taught at the local teachers college. They would have three daughters and a son, so this wife was known as Umm Khaled. His fourth wife, Umm Ali, came from the Gilaini family in Mecca, and she bore him three children. Academically undistinguished himself, and clearly uninterested, bin Laden would never pursue the respectable professions, such as law, engineering, or medicine, that might have given him independent standing. His brothers were being educated at the finest universities in the world, but the example that meant the most to him was that of his illiterate father. He spoke of him constantly and held him up as a paragon. He longed to achieve comparable distinction—and yet he lived in a culture where individuality was discouraged, or at least reserved for royalty. Like other members of the Saudi upper class, the bin Ladens prospered on royal favors, which they were loath to put at risk. Moreover, they were outsiders—still Yemenis, in the eyes of clannish Saudis. There was no political system, no civil society, no obvious route to greatness. Bin Laden was untrained for the clergy, which was the sole alternative to royal power in the Kingdom. His obvious future was to remain in the family company, far down the list in seniority, respected within his family ambit but never able to really make a mark. Bin Laden continued to pester his older brothers to let him work for 82 The Founder the company, and finally they gave him a part-time job in Mina, in the holy complex of Mecca. They expected it to take six months, but bin Laden declared, "I want to be like my father. I will work day and night with no rest/' He was still trying to finish his studies, so after classes he would race to Mecca, where his job was to level hills to make room for the new highways and hotels and pilgrimage centers that the Saudi Binladin Group was building. He insisted on working directly with the laborers he was supposed to oversee, and he spent many hours operating bulldozers and earth-moving equipment. It had already become unusual to see Saudis doing physical labor—most such jobs were held by expatriates from the Philippines or the Indian subcontinent— so the sight of the founder's lanky scion caked with the sweat and dust of heavy construction made a startling impression. "I recall, with pride, that I was the only family member who succeeded in combining work and doing excellently in school," bin Laden later bragged; but, in truth, the schedule was unmanageable, even for him. At the end of the semester he dropped out of the university, a year short of graduation, and went to work for the company full-time. He was just over six feet tall—not the giant that he was later made out to be. An acquaintance recalled meeting him in this period, before jihad changed everything. "Somebody died and we went to give condolences," the friend said. Bin Laden was in his early twenties, he was very handsome, with fair skin, a full beard, and broad, swollen lips. His nose was long and complex, being narrow and straight at the top, then abruptly spreading out into two broad wings with an upturned tip. He wore a black headband around his white headscarf, and under his scarf, his hair was short, black, and frizzy. He was gaunt from fasting and hard work. His high, reedy voice, and his demure and languid manner added to an impression of frailty. "He was confident and charismatic," the friend observed. Even though religious scholars were present, bin Laden presented himself almost as an equal. When he spoke, his composure was spellbinding. Everyone in the room was drawn to him. "What struck me is that he came from such a hierarchical family," said his friend, "but he broke the hierarchy."


3. The FounderEdit

60 arrived in the Kingdom in 1985: interview with Ahmed Badeeb. "scars left on his body": al-Zayyat, The Road to al-Qaeda, 31. testifying against his comrades: ibid., 49. "situation in Egypt": Tahta al-Mijhar [Under the Microscope], al-Jazeera, February 20, 2003. 61 Zawahiri and bin Laden met: al-Zayyat, "Islamic Groups," part 4, Al-Hayat, January 12, 2005. Zayyat claims that Zawahiri gave him this information, although Zayyat did not tell me this when we spoke in 2002. At that time, he said that Zawahiri and bin Laden probably met in 1986 in Peshawar. This new information, he contends, is based on subsequent conversations with Zawahiri. Mohammed Salaah, the Al-Hayat correspondent in Cairo, told me that, according to his sources, the two men met in 1985, which would have been in Jeddah. Others speculate that the first meeting of Zawahiri and bin Laden took place in Pakistan; for instance, Jamal Ismail told Peter Bergen that the first meeting of the two men was in Peshawar in 1986. Bergen, The Osama bin Laden I Know, 63. "If our first parent": Burton, Personal Narrative, 2:274. bin Laden's was buried here: interview with anonymous bin Laden family spokesperson. death in an air crash in 1967: Othman Milyabaree and Abdullah Hassanein, "Al-Isamee al-Kabeer Alathee Faqadathoo al-Bilad" [The Big Self-Made Man the Country Has Lost], Okaz, September 7,1967. 62 builders and architects: Eric Watkins, personal communication. Ethiopia: interview with bin Laden family spokesperson. 390 Notes boat to Jizan: interview with Saleh M. Binladin. massacring thousands: Aburish, The Rise, Corruption, and Coming Fall, 24. According to Aburish, "No fewer than 400,000 people were killed and wounded, for the Ikhwan did not take prisoners, but mostly killed the vanquished. Well over a million inhabitants of the territories conquered by Ibn Saud fled to other countries." The Saudi historian Madawi al-Rasheed notes that such figures are hard to credit, since there was no one doing the counting, but she writes, in personal communication, "The scale of Saudi atrocities in the name of unifying the country is massive." She adds, "The ikhwan were nothing but a mercenary force mobilised by Ibn Saud to fight his own wars and to serve his own purposes. Once they did the job for him he massacred them using other mercenaries, this time the sedentary population of southern Najd, other tribes, and the British Royal Air force stationed in Kuwait and Iraq at the time." 63 theological innovations: Schwartz, Two Faces of Islam, 69ft. they could kill: Khaled Abou el Fadl, "The Ugly Modern and the Modern Ugly/' 33-77- 64 Karl Twitchell: Lacey, The Kingdom, 23 iff; Lippman, Inside the Mirage, 15ft. had begun as a dockworker: interview with Nawaf Obaid. one glass eye: interview with anonymous bin Laden family spokesperson. the result of a blow: interview with Jamal Khalifa. A bin Laden family spokesperson disputes the story about the teacher hitting Mohammed bin Laden; he says the eye was lost in an accident in Ethiopia. Before protective goggles were commonly used, bricklayers and stonecutters often were blinded by chips of rock or mortar. I rely on the schoolteacher story because Khalifa heard it from his wife, who was close to her father. Other bin Laden brothers I've spoken to admit they have no special knowledge about the loss of their father's vision. 65 "his signature": interview with Saleh M. Binladin. "dark, friendly, and energetic": interview with Michael M. Ameen, Jr. Aramco began a program: Thomas C. Barger, "Birth of a Dream," Saudi Aramco World 35, no. 3 (May/June 1984). Aramco sponsorship: interview with Prince Turki al-Faisal. "Aramco was really the only institution that built things," Prince Turki told me. "When King Abdul Aziz wanted something done he would ask Aramco to do it, or get their advice. That was how bin Laden came into the picture. He was recommended." "raised as a laborer": Othman Milyabaree and Abdullah Hassanein, "Al- Isamee al-Kabeer Alathee Faqadathoo al-Bilad" [The Big Self-Made Man the Country Has Lost], Okaz, September 7,1967. unprofitable projects: interview with anonymous Saudi source. They called him mu'alim: interview with Jamal Khalifa. renovating houses: interview with anonymous bin Laden family spokesperson. minister of finance: Mohammed Besalama, "Al-Sheikh Mohammed Awad bin Laden al-Mu'alem" [Sheikh Mohammed Awad bin Laden, the Teacher], Okaz, June 2,1984. 391 Notes 65 Osama bin Laden would recall: interview with Ali Soufan. drove the king's car: interview with anonymous bin Laden family spokesman. first concrete building: anonymous Saudi source. minister of public works: Mohammed Besalama, "Al-Sheikh Mohammed Awad bin Laden al-Mu'alem" [Sheikh Mohammed Awad bin Laden, the Teacher], Okaz, June 2, 1984; interview with anonymous bin Laden family spokesman. pay the same fee: Mohammed Besalama, "Al-Sheikh Mohammed Awad bin Laden al-Mu'alem" [Sheikh Mohammed Awad bin Laden, the Teacher], Okaz, June 2,1984. one well-paved road: Mayer, "The House of bin Laden." 66 largest customer: anonymous Saudi source. A spokesperson for the Caterpillar Corporation refused comment. donated the asphalt: Lippman, Inside the Mirage, 49. Umm Kalthoum: interview with Khaled Batarfi. "We have to organize": interview with Prince Talal bin Abdul Aziz. throwing money: Lacey, The Kingdom, 302. 67 Hotel al-Yamama: interview with Michael M. Ameen, Jr. bin Laden began diversifying: Aramco, Binladen Brothers for Contracting and Industry (N.p., n.d.) Grand Mosque: figures from Abbas, Story of the Great Expansion, j,6^ii., and a Saudi Binladin Group promotional film. 68 less than a hundred dollars: Lacey, The Kingdom, 323. fronted the money: interview with anonymous Saudi source. special permission: Lippman, Inside the Mirage, 127. At the time, the king also had to personally approve every takeoff and landing of flights in the Kingdom. 69 training Saudi forces in 1953: Rachel Bronson, personal communication. According to Bronson, the Saudis permitted the Americans to build an air base in 1945, which was designed to facilitate troop movement to the Pacific theater during World War II. The American presence was renegotiated after the war, and the Americans conducted a survey to determine Saudi military needs. In 1953 the United States and the Saudis signed the agreement that allowed American forces to train Saudi units. It has served as the basis for all subsequent military cooperation. view the ruins: interview with Stanley Guess. 70 al-Qaeda would use this: Wiktorowicz and Kaltner, "Killing in the Name of Islam." surrendered to the Ikhwan: Champion, The Paradoxical Kingdom, 49ff.; al- Rasheed, A History of Saudi Arabia, 66; Lacey, The Kingdom, 188. He had a vision: interview with Prince Turki al-Faisal. Bin Laden's brilliant solution: anonymous bin Laden family spokesman, personal communication. bin Laden pushed a donkey: interview with Mahmoud Alim. According to Ali Soufan, Osama bin Laden often recounted the same story. For twenty months: anonymous bin Laden family spokesman, personal communication. 3 92 Notes beginning in 1961: Saudi Binladin Group brochure. dynamite charges: interview with Khaled Batarfi. marking the path: interview with Jamal Khalifa. 71 unbudgeted expenses: interview with Prince Turki al-Faisal. He paid for the operation: Othman Milyabaree and Abdullah Hassanein, "Al-Isamee al-Kabeer Alathee Faqadathoo al-Bilad" [The Big Self-Made Man the Country Has Lost], Okaz, September 7,1967. "What I remember: "Walidee Ramama al-Aqsa Bilkhasara" [My Father Renovated Al Aqsa Mosque, with a Loss], Al-Umma al-lslamiyya, October 18,1991. fathered fifty-four children: interview with anonymous bin Laden family spokesman, who told me there were twenty-nine daughters and twenty-five sons. National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, The 9/11 Commission Report {55), puts the total number of children at fifty-seven. The total number of wives: interview with anonymous bin Laden family spokesman. An assistant followed: interview with anonymous bin Laden family spokesman. concubines: bin Ladin, Inside the Kingdom, 69. "My father used to say": Anonymous, Through Our Enemies' Eyes, 82. 72 his seventeenth son, Osama: The 9/11 Commission Report, 55. Syrian wife: "Ashiqaa' Wa Shaqiqat Oola Zawjat Bin Laden Billathiqiya Khaifoon 'Alayha wa 'ala Atfaliha al 11 Fee Afghanistan" [The Brothers and Sisters of the First Wife of bin Laden in Latakya Are Afraid for Her and Her 11 Children in Afghanistan], Al-Sharq al-Awsat, November 14, 2001. fourteen-year-old girl: interview with Khaled Batarfi. Alia Ghanem: Ali Taha and Emad Sara, "Al-Majellah Fee Qaryat Akhwal Osama bin Laden Fee Suria" [Al-Majellah in the Village of the Uncles, of Osama bin Laden's in Syria], Al-Majellah, December 8, 2001. the Alawite sect: Joseph Bahout, personal communication. Whether Alia Ghanem herself was an Alawi is a subject of dispute. Ahmed Badeeb, an assistant to Prince Turki when he was head of Saudi intelligence, told me that she was an Alawite, as did Osama bin Laden's brother-in-law, Jamal Khalifa, and his friend Jamal Khashoggi. The family has denied it—which, of course, could be religious dissimulation. Ahmed Zaidan told me that he had asked the guests at the wedding of Osama's son in Jalalabad in 2001 if Alia was an Alawite and was told that she was not. Wahib Ghanem, an Alawite from Lattakia in the 1940s, was a founder of the Baath Party. There are, however, Ghanems who are Christian or Sunni Islam, especially in Lebanon. Alia joined bin Laden's household: Nawaf Obaid says that Alia was actually a concubine, a point that is reinforced by Carmen bin Ladin. Jamal Khashoggi says, "The fact that she gave birth to Osama meant that they were married, but there was the business of buying concubines—it was a thing of that time, the 1950s, particularly from the Alawi sect." Alia was modern and secular: interview with Jamal Khalifa. January 1958: Bin Laden says, "I was born in the month of Ragab in Hejira 1377." "Walidee Ramama al-Aqsa Bilkhasara" [My Father Renovated al-Aqsa Mosque, with a Loss], Al-Umma al-lslamiyya, October 18,1991. He told Jamal Ismail, "God Almighty was gracious enough for me to be born to Muslim par- 393 Notes ents in the Arabian Peninsula, in al-Malazz neighborhood in al-Riyadh, in 1377 Hejira"—which could be 1957 or 1958, depending on the month. Jamal Ismail, "Osama bin Laden: The Destruction of the Base," presented by Salah Najm, al-Jazeera, June 10, 1999. Bin Laden allegedly gave his birth date as March 10,1958, during that interview, but it was not a part of the transcript. Moreover, Saudi men of his age typically do not know their actual date of birth, since birthdays are not celebrated. Saudi authorities arbitrarily assigned many men the same birth date for passports and other official documents. For instance, bin Laden's friend Jamal Khalifa was "officially" born on February 1, 1957; by chance, he found a notation in a family diary that he was actually born on September 1,1956. The bin Laden family records, such as they are, do not give a particular date of his birth. 72 "Rest his soul": "Walidee Ramama al-Aqsa Bilkhasara" [My Father Renovated al-Aqsa Mosque, with a Loss], Al-Umma al-Islamiyya, October 18,1991. 73 The children rarely saw: interview with Ali Soufan, who says, "His brothers told me he never saw his father more than three or four times." he would call them: interview with Jamal Khalifa. gold coin: interview with anonymous Saudi source. he rarely spoke: "Half-brother Will Pay to Defend bin Laden," AP, July 5, 2005. Yeslam bin Laden spoke of being afraid of his father on the al-Arabiya satellite channel, but his comments were misinterpreted in an Englishlanguage AP story to say that he had been beaten. "I remember reciting": "Walidee Ramama al-Aqsa Bilkhasara" [My Father Renovated al-Aqsa Mosque, with a Loss], Al-Umma al-Islamiyya, October 18, 1991. religious debates: Reeve, The New Jackals, 159. "He gathered his engineers": Salah Najm and Jamal Ismail, "Osama bin Laden: The Destruction of the Base," al-Jazeera, June 10,1999. marrying off ex-wives: interview with anonymous bin Laden family spokesperson. Mohammed al-Attas: interview with Khaled Batarfi. Osama was four or five: interview with Jamal Khalifa. 74 another teenage bride: interview with Michael M. Ameen, Jr. so charred: interview with bin Laden family spokesperson. Bin Ladin, Inside the Kingdom, 65. "King Faisal said": Reeve, The New Jackals, 159. for the next ten years: Mohammed Besalama, "Al-Sheikh Mohammed Awad bin Laden al-Mu'alem" [Sheikh Mohammed Awad bin Laden, the Teacher], Okaz, June 2,1984. 75 Only Osama remained behind: interview with anonymous Saudi source. al-Thagr: interview with Prince Amr Mohammed al-Faisal. class of sixty-eight students: interview with Ahmed Badeeb. The two princes were Abdul Aziz bin Mishal bin Abdul Aziz and Abdul Aziz bin Ahmed bin Abdul Rahman. found him shy: Brian Fyheld-Shayler, quoted in "Meeting Osama bin Laden," PBS, January 12, 2005. Some ascribe the change: interviews with Tarik Ali Alireza and Ahmed Badeeb. 394 Notes Osama stopped watching: "Half Brother Says bin Laden Is Alive and Well,", March 19,2002. 76 "In his teenage years": Khaled Batarfi, "An Interview With Osama bin Laden's Mother," The Mail on Sunday, December 23, 2001. right after isha: interview with Khaled Batarfi. "beginning of his path": Michael Slackman, "Bin Laden's Mother Tried to Stop Him, Syrian Kin Say," Chicago Tribune, November 13, 2001. yj companions of the Prophet: Rahimullah Yusufzai, "Terror Suspect: An Interview with Osama bin Laden,", December 1988. "The Abu Bakr group": interview with Khaled Batarfi. 78 "I decided to drop out": "Walidee Ramama al-Aqsa Bilkhasara" [My Father Renovated al-Aqsa Mosque, with a Loss], Al-Umma al-Islamiyya, October 18, 1991. wedding party: interview with Khaled Batarfi. "constantly pregnant": bin Ladin, Inside the Kingdom, 160. "Only nerds": interview with Jamal Khashoggi. He studied economics: interview with Jamal Khalifa, who is the source of much of the information about bin Laden's university experience. "I formed a religious charity": "Walidee Ramama al-Aqsa Bilkhasara" [My Father Renovated al-Aqsa Mosque, with a Loss], Al-Umma al-Islamiyya, October 18,1991. 79 walk barefoot: interview with Jamal Khalifa. Mohammad Qutb . . . would lecture: interviews with Khaled Batarfi, Jamal Khalifa, and Mohammed Qutb. 80 eleven children: interview with Khaled Batarfi; Douglas Farah and Dana Priest, "Bin Laden Son Plays Key Role in al-Qaeda," Washington Post, October 14,2003. sleep on the sand: interview with Khaled Batarfi. refused to let them attend school: interview with Jamal Khalifa. Abdul Rahman: ibid. 81 using honey: interview with Zaynab Ahmed Khadr, who has a child with a similar disability. She discussed the problem with Abdul Rahman's mother. 82 Umm Hamza: interviews with Zaynab Ahmed Khadr (who also supplied the tallies of bin Laden's children) and with Maha Elsamneh. house on Macaroni Street: tour and interview with Jamal Khalifa. 83 "I want to be": interview with Jamal Khalifa. "I recall, with pride": "Walidee Ramama al-Aqsa Bilkhasara" [My Father Renovated al-Aqsa Mosque, with a Loss], Al-Umma al-Islamiyya, October 18, 1991. just over six feet tall: The 9/11 Commission Report, 55, drawing from American intelligence, places bin Laden's height at 6'5". According to Michael Scheuer, that estimate derived from Essam Deraz, bin Laden's first biographer, who told me bin Laden was "more than two meters tall, maybe two-five or twofour"— over 6'8" tall. John Miller, who interviewed bin Laden for ABC television, described him as 6'5", but he saw him on only one occasion. Ahmad Zaidan, the al-Jazeera bureau chief in Islamabad who met bin Laden several times, estimates his height at 180 cm., about 5'n". Bin Laden's friends, however, closely agree on his height. Jamal Khashoggi told me that bin Laden 395 Notes was "exactly my height"—182 cm., nearly 6'. Bin Laden's friend in Sudan, Issam Turabi, told me that bin Laden was 183 or 184 cm., about 6'. His college friend and housemate, Jamal Khalifa, places his height at 185 cm., just over 6'i". That is the actual height of bin Laden's son Abdullah, who says his father is about two inches taller than he. Bin Laden's friend Mohammed Loay Baizid also says that bin Laden is two inches taller than he is, but Baizid stands only 5'j". One could theorize about the wide disparity in perceptions; I only include this survey as an example of one reporter's frustration in trying to get an answer to a single simple question—among many that had conflicting responses.

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