Osama bin Laden, the founder of al-Qaeda, remained a symbol of terror across the globe, but his mother still remembers him as a ‘shy boy’ who was ‘academically capable’.
Ali Ghanem, bin Laden’s mother, said that her son was a strong, driven, pious figure in his early 20s.
This is the first time she has spoken to the media, seven years after her son was killed in a CIA raid in Abbottabad.
She said bin Laden was radicalized at the King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, where he was studying economics.
“The people at the university changed him,” Ghanem told The Guardian. “He became a different man.”
Did she ever suspect he might become a extremist? “It never crossed my mind,” Ghanem said. “We were extremely upset. I did not want any of this to happen.”
Hassan, one of bin Laden’s brothers, said that his brother was a respected figure in the early 1980s when he travelled to Afghanistan to fight the Russians.
“Everyone who met him in the early days respected him,” Hassan told the UK newspaper. “At the start, we were very proud of him. Even the Saudi government would treat him in a very noble and respected way. And then came Osama the mujahid.”
The family said they last met Osama outside Afghanistan’s Kandhar city in 1999, two years before al-Qaeda bombed the Twin Towers. “It was a place near the airport that they had captured from the Russians,” bin Laden’s mother said.
Is bin Laden’s youngest son going to become al-Qaeda’s new leader?
Hamza, bin Laden’s youngest son, is believed to have taken up his father’s project and is being trained by Ayman al-Zawahiri − Osama’s deputy and the former member of Egypt’s ‘Islamic Jihad’.
His uncle, however, doesn’t want his nephew to follow in the footsteps of Osama.
“If Hamza was in front of me now, I would tell him, ‘God guide you. Think twice about what you are doing. Don’t retake the steps of your father. You are entering horrible parts of your soul.”