son of al qaeda
photo of osama bin laden and children

Life with Osama bin Laden
Here, Abdurahman, Abdullah, Maha and Zaynab Khadr describe their life in Afghanistan with Osama bin Laden and his family, and offer anecdotes of Osama's love of poetry, volleyball and horseback riding, and his hatred of American products.

Abdurahman Khadr

What was your first impression of Osama bin Laden?

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After the '95 Egyptian bombing in Islamabad, my father was arrested and there was the whole media thing that came out and the Canadian prime minister came to Pakistan and my mother and my brothers got to meet him.

Anyway, after my father was released, he came back to Canada. And when we were coming back from Canada, you know, I was looking through a magazine. I saw his picture. And next thing I know, we're in Pakistan. My father's telling us we're going to a place and we're going to meet this person. I thought it was just like we're going to meet some people.

So we went to Jalalabad after a little bit. We got a house in Jalalabad. And one day he put us all in the car and he drove off. We drove off road for almost half an hour or more and then we came up to a compound. We went inside, and they took us into a big sitting room and we sat there and waited. And then the next thing I know, he's coming through the door.

You had seen him in a magazine?

In a magazine and I had seen this person that was America's most wanted and then the next thing I know, he's in front of me. So I'm amazed. I'm like, wow, this [is a] person who's big, you know?

What were your impressions of him?

I watched him. I was a child then. But I would say he's a normal human being. He's done lots of bad things and all of that and there's lots of human beings that have done a lot of bad things. But when you get really down it, he's a human being. He has issues with his wife and he has issues with his kids. Financial issues, you know. The kids aren't listening, the kids aren't doing this and that. So comes really down it, he's a father and he's a person.

How well did you get to know his family and his children?

His sons, again, they're normal children that, you know, want more. They love horses and their father had promised them that he would get them a horse if they memorized the Quran. So they were so anxious to finish memorizing it so they could get a horse, which shows you that they're normal children, too.

I had insisted that [my father] get me a horse, too, so he got me a horse. So, you know, our friendship between me and his kids was mostly the horse, because you know the horses were fed, how they were cleaned and stuff like that.

Just describe his living situation a bit. How many wives and children were there? How big was his circle?

Osama has three wives. I think he had four, but I don't know so much about the fourth wife and then I know that he has three wives. From one wife, the first one, he has mostly all of his children, which I think are seven or eight. And then the second wife there is, like, two or three and the third wife there's two or three from her, too.

They lived all in the same house, his family -- like, a big house but in different, you know, inside houses. Other than that, there were people around him that just lived by being around him. They do nothing but living around him. People that came to Afghanistan all the way in the beginning when governments were supporting the war against the Soviets. So they came as doctors or engineers and then when they went back they were told they would be arrested and stuff, so they just had to hang around. So no one would pay them or anything. They didn't have jobs or anything. So they just, you know, hanged around Osama.

What were your relations with him?

I'm my father's son. My father is very big and he knows a lot of people. He knows Osama and all these people, but I'm again, the Canadian son because, you know, our family is not so strict in itself. So I like watching movies, as a normal kid, you know, but that wasn't okay with them. That's why there was always conflicts.

His sons were very strict. They wanted a horse but they didn't listen to music, they didn't want to talk about, you know, music or movies or anything.

How about using American products?

When we were living there, one day I went down to the city of Jalalabad, the bazaar, and I bought hot sauce. I brought it back and I was sitting in the big place where everybody was sitting in the house. That's how they ate. They would sit all and the big plates of rice and meat and we'd all eat together, you know. Anyways, I take it out and I spill some and I'd hide it again because I knew they were against any American products -- Pepsi, Coca-Cola or any of that.

Osama didn't want any American products around?

He was against any American products and I can tell you this. He was against using ice and he actually forbidded [sic] it on the people that lived around him. Anyhow the people smuggled it in but he had forbidded it.

He had forbidded electricity even if he knew they needed it, but he didn't want them in any way to be spoiled because with some thing that's how it starts, he says. It starts with ice and then something a little more and then a more and more and more and so he restricted. … Lots of the people around him wanted stuff that, you know, were not American, but just pleasures of life that you need every day. But he was trying to keep them as close to him and as close to his way of living as he can.

Do you think the idea was he might have to live again as he had done during the Afghan war?

Yeah, well, his idea is I can live anywhere. I'll live anywhere. The important thing is my cause, is not me or where I live. That's why he lived in a mud hut. I can tell you that. He lived in a mud house, he and his family. …

Did Osama attend your sister's wedding?

The second wedding. He attended the wedding.

So describe the scene to me. Do you have a memory of that? How was he dressed or what was he--

He was dressed in normal clothes, which, you know, he's dressed in on TV and stuff. His turban, his salwar kameez, the Afghani clothes, and his coat. And with his stick. And his small AK-47.

He came after we already started. There was a big circle with people sitting around and stuff and they started singing. There was only talk and whatever. So I remember him coming, sitting down, listening to the singing. …

Maha Elsamneh and Zaynab Khadr

Zaynab, how would you describe your family's relations with Osama bin Laden?

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ZAYNAB: My father knew him a long time ago, 20 years ago. As a family, I only knew them in 1997.

MAHA: When we were in Jalalabad.

ZAYNAB: Yeah, when we lived in Jalalabad, that was the first time, I remember that I met them. Actually, it's not that they're not social people. They're very social, but they have lots of restrictions, where they go, when they go, where they come, when they come, who visits to them and how long you can stay in their house and all that. So you can't really have an intimate relationship with them, and you can't be really going and coming because they have to watch many things.

So we've seen them sometimes. We'd be in an area where many people are living, so we'd visit as many people as we can, because we were never one of Al Qaeda, so we never lived in their compounds. We were never living around their compounds, so whenever we would go to that place it would be like we'd like to see as many people as we could. And we'd see them in--

MAHA: Social gatherings --

ZAYNAB: Yeah, weddings--

MAHA: Studying circles, mainly studying circles, and once in Eid, and once at a wedding.

ZAYNAB: Or sometimes people would make this bazaar, and sell these things, and sometimes you'd get to see them there.

When was the last time you think you saw them?

ZAYNAB: Maybe it was 2000, the end of 2000, because I was in Canada in February 2001, and I saw them a couple of months before that.

I think there was a report in Canada that Osama attended your wedding

ZAYNAB: Yeah he did.

When would that have been?

Sept. 9, 1999. …

You mentioned you would see the bin Laden family in the study circles. Tell me a little bit about that.

MAHA: What we were studying? Just Quranic translation or some Arabic lessons. Or you know as Muslims we have so much revelation about how we clean ourselves or how we pray and all this. We have to do exactly according to the prophet you know. And the prophet's sayings.

It's two hours and it's usually not in their homes. As Zaynab was saying, they have so much restriction and actually that was the only time we can see them because they are allowed once a week out of their house.

ZAYNAB: They are allowed to be visited one day a week and visit one day a week.

MAHA: So they keep their visits for the studies.

ZAYNAB: For the studies and they'd be able to see everybody and at the same time they'd benefit from it. And actually their visit was only … about two hours. So you can't go before and can't go after, and you can't go any other day except for that day.

MAHA: For me, I used to admire them because I know they were very, very rich family and they live in a very, very, very simple -- I mean I was like a queen compared to them because I was living in a house with electricity and water. They did not have this in their compound. As I said, we would never live in the compound. We always had our own residence. So they lived in a much, much simple and more severe lifestyle. I think they can afford better but I think their father always wanted them to live this because they have to be on the same level like everybody else.

ZAYNAB: Because he couldn't make everybody in the group live as good as his family, so his family had to be able to live like everybody else. Unless you could make everybody live such high living they just have to manage like everybody else.

Is it true he wanted nobody using modern conveniences, ice?

ZAYNAB: No.

No you didn't hear that?

ZAYNAB: No. I mean in Sudan for a while and he didn't allow them to drink cold water. Probably because he didn't believe in using modern conveniences because he wanted them to be prepared that one day there's no cold water, they'd be able to survive and it wouldn't be so difficult for them.

MAHA: He did not like soft drinks.

ZAYNAB: He didn't like to buy American soft drinks, Coke and Pepsi and all that, but his kids sometimes would buy them. And he liked them to live more natural like. They had horses and camels. I mean he's a Saudi or more of a Bedouin. They love horses and camels and they had them even in their compound. But one of his kids loved cars so whatever allowances his father was giving him, he got enough money to buy himself a car.

Who's that?

ZAYNAB: One of his sons, his name was Saad. Another one just bought horses. Whenever he got money he'd buy a horse. Whenever he had money he'd buy a horse or camel and one of them just bought a car.

So I don't think he was against any of that stuff and they use computers and we had electric generators and they had washing machines and they had all these equipments to make movies and--

MAHA: And sometimes it would be kind of saving more. … Osama would just spend most of their money on food so their life--

ZAYNAB: I mean they had a certain amount of income. Each had a way of spreading around that income for his own needs.

MAHA: But we were like living like queens compared to most of these people. Not because we loved luxury or we were very rich or we were using the people's money or orphan's money. Thanks to God we had our own income so we're not dependent on anybody. ...

Did you see him interacting with his own children?

ZAYNAB: I heard about it. I never saw it. Men and women don't mix. But as far as I know, it was very important for him to sit with his kids every day at least for two hours in the morning after their morning prayer. They sit and read a book at least. It didn't have to be something religious. He loved poetry very much. So he tried to encourage them to read, memorize and write poetry. So every once in a while it would be a different book, sometimes it's about poetry, sometimes it's about history or sometimes it's about grammar, language, sometimes a religious book.

MAHA: And he loves sports.

ZAYNAB: Yeah he loved playing volleyball and loved horse riding. And he'd do it, I mean amongst people he was not Osama bin Laden. He was just Osama, just a sheikh. And kids played around him. Kids would go shake his hand. He played volleyball with them or just horse race with them. Just, he was just a normal person. And they'd go shooting he'd go with them. If he missed his target they'd laugh at him and stuff like that.

abdullah khadr

What were your impressions of Osama bin Ladin? I guess you saw him for the first time as a young boy. What were your impressions of him?

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He was very quiet person. He would eventually get his respect. You would respect what he says. If he talks, he talks slowly. He never jokes, very quiet person, very polite. He can be a saint, something like a saint.

You see him as a saint?

I have my respect for him. I don't say that he doesn't do anything wrong. But I see him as a very peaceful man. In his daily doings, I never saw him shout at anybody. Never would you hear that Osama shouted at anybody. You never would've heard that he hit anybody. You never have heard that he got angry, some day. He's always smiling whatever happens.

Did you talk to him personally?

No, I never. No. If I saw him far away I would always get shy.

Why?

I don't know. Like if you would see the Canadian prime minister. I saw him in '96. The most I said is, "How are you?" I couldn't say more. …

Did you play with the bin Ladin children? Did you get to know them very well?

Very well no, but know them yes. They had horses, we had horses. So eventually met in horse market. We buy horses they buy. Just like any children. …

Mohammed [bin Laden] used to go hunting. He had a car. I was more than them, I like cars more than horses. And the rest of my family, Omar and the rest of them liked horses, so we got along both ways. Those who like car get along with one who like cars and the one who likes horses and animals. …

But did you ever see [Osama] with his sons? I guess I'm just wondering what it was what his relationship was like with his own children? What he was like as a father?

He was a father to everyone. I never heard them complain of him. I never heard anybody complaining. Maybe complaining from his friends, from the people who worked with him but never of him.

 

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posted april 22, 2004

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