Osama bin Laden’s mother, Alia Ghanem, has spoken publicly about her son for the first time, characterizing the infamous 9/11 terrorist as a pious child who lost his way. Ghanem, who is now in her mid-70s, had long refused to talk about Osama, and the wealthy bin Laden family’s movements and meetings are still heavily monitored by Saudi Arabia’s government. But Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the 32-year-old heir to the Kingdom’s throne — an advocate for pushing the country away from conservative Wahhabist Islam and toward more moderate traditions — agreed to allow the exclusive interview with The Guardian’s Martin Chulov.
Bin Laden, Ghanem explained, had been radicalized after meeting Abdullah Azzam, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood who was later exiled from Saudi Arabia, while studying economics at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah.
My son, Osama: the al-Qaida leader’s mother speaks for the first time https://t.co/xVHtSkGfRx
— The Guardian (@guardian) August 3, 2018
“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.”
She last saw him, she said, in 1999, at a base outside Kandahar Afghanistan that he had helped to capture from the Russians. His children and at least two of his wives, however, now live in Jeddah, and Ghanem says she speaks to his harem most weeks. In an aside to Chulov, bin Laden’s two half-brothers — Ahmad and Hassan — said their mother had never been willing to fully blame bin Laden for his terrible actions.
“It has been 17 years now [since 9/11] and she remains in denial about Osama,” said Ahmad. “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.” For more on the story, watch the video below.
Read the full interview at The Guardian.