Osama bin Ladin’s Mother

Of course Osama bin Ladin has a mother. I don’t know why I was surprised to read about her in an article in the British newspaper The Guardian, to which I subscribe online.

Her name is Alia Ghanem. She is in her mid-70’s, and lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where the bin Ladin clan has lived for generations and is still one of the kingdom’s most wealthy families. She has a picture of Osama in her living room. She and her husband, who is Osama’s step-father, are surrounded in their Jedda neighborhood by family: Osama’s two half-brothers and their wives and children, and at least two of Osama’s wives, one of whom was in Abbottabad when bin Ladin was killed, many grandchildren.

Hamza bin Ladin, Osama’s youngest son and perceived heir in leadership of the the  global terrorist movement, is estranged from the family and thought to be in Afghanistan. His grandmother and step-grandfather wish Hamza would stand down. They do not want to go through another period like the one that followed Osama’s attack on the United States, and his death in Pakistan. Osama, his mother believes, was a good man until he was led astray.


Alia Ghanem suffered the loss of her son, but her wealthy and privileged life in Saudi Arabia has not changed much, especially after the family’s restrictions on travel outside the kingdom were lifted some time after Osama’s death. She was willing to talk with a Western journalist, willing to affirm her love for her son, and open to attempting to explain his dark turn into the global terrorist movement that led to 9/11.

Perhaps for her too, the mid-70’s are a time of summing up, of pulling together the loose threads of one’s life into a coherent whole, of confronting the loss of the son who went astray. In that she seems deeply human, with a more nuanced life than just the Mother of Osama.

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