Osama Bin Laden’s Mother Speaks For The First Time Since 9/11

“The people at university changed him. He became a different man … He met some people who pretty much brainwashed him in his early 20s. You can call it a cult.”



It has been nearly 17 years since the deadly series of coordinated terrorists attack on Sept.11, 2001 shook the United States of America.

Just recently, the mother of the mastermind behind the incidents, Osama bins Laden, went on record and spoke publicly for the first time about her son.

Alia Ghanem, who is now in her mid-70s, had long avoided talking about Bin Laden. However, the wealthy family remains an influential part of Saudi society where their movements and meetings are still heavily monitored by the Gulf kingdom.

But, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the 32-year-old heir to the throne, agreed to allow the exclusive interview with The Guardian’s Martin Chulov. Bin Laden’s legacy is as grave a blight on the kingdom as it is on the family, hence through this interview, the country hoped that it would show the world “an outcast—not an agent—was responsible for 9/11.”

In the conversation, Ghanem blamed Abdullah Azzam, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood who was later exiled from Saudi Arabia, for radicalizing Bin Laden while he was studying economics at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah.

“My life was very difficult because he was so far away from me. “He was a very good kid and he loved me so much,” she said of bin Laden. “The people at university changed him. He became a different man … He met some people who pretty much brainwashed him in his early 20s. You can call it a cult. They got money for their cause. I would always tell him to stay away from them, and he would never admit to me what he was doing, because he loved me so much.”

Bin Laden’s two half-brothers were also part of the interview, and recounted some of the memories they had of him when he was just an ordinary person and not a global jihadist.

“Everyone who met him in the early days respected him. At the start, we were very proud of him. Even the Saudi government would treat him in a very noble, respectful way. And then came Osama the mujahid,” said Hassan.

“It never crossed my mind. We were extremely upset. I did not want any of this to happen. Why would he throw it all away like that?” added Ghanem.

Ghanem last saw her son in 1999, at a base outside Kandahar Afghanistan that he had helped to capture from the Russians.

“It was a place near the airport that they had captured from the Russians. He was very happy to receive us. He was showing us around every day we were there. He killed an animal and we had a feast, and he invited everyone,” she recalled.

At one point of the conversation, Ghanem left and the two brothers took over to contextualize their mother’s thinking.

“It has been 17 years now [since 9/11] and she remains in denial about Osama,” Ahmad said. “She loved him so much and refuses to blame him. Instead, she blames those around him. She only knows the good boy side, the side we all saw. She never got to know the jihadist side,” said Ahmed.

Bin Laden died seven years ago in 2011 when U.S. Navy Seals reportedly raid his compound and shot him dead. His children and at least two of his wives, however, now live in Jeddah.

Banner / Thumbnail : MIR HAMID/DAILY DAWN/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

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