son of al qaeda
maha and zaynab khadr

Maha, left and Zaynab, right.
maha elsamnah & zaynab khadr

A Canadian of Palestinian descent, Maha Elsamnah is the wife of Ahmed Said Khadr and the mother of Abdurahman Khadr. Zaynab Khadr is her daughter. In this interview, the two discuss the allegations against their family members. They deny that the family was ever officially a part of Al Qaeda but admit they are sympathetic to the organization. They also say they are proud that Ahmed Said Khadr died as a martyr for Islam and express their frustration with U.S. involvement in the Middle East. In April 2004, Maha returned to Canada to seek medical treatment for her youngest son Abdul Karim, who was paralyzed in the attack that killed his father. Zaynab still lives in Pakistan. This interview was conducted on Feb. 22, 2004.

For the Americans we're Al Qaeda, for the Al Qaeda we're Canadians.

So if we could start, Maha with you, when was the last time you saw your husband and Karim? Were they together?

MAHA: Yes. Actually, I asked them to leave the house because they were making so much -- I don't want to remember because it was a sad day. I'm a very hyper person. I like things to be done as fast as possible, and they're very slow getting ready, and I can't do my work because they're all over the place

ZAYNAB: They were going shopping and I was going out with them. I don't know who was doing what, and my mother said, "Get out, go," and we said, "Mom wait." She's like, "No, go finish your work. Go, let me finish my work." We're like, "Mom, you're kicking us out," and she's like, "Yes, I'm kicking you out, now go."

MAHA: And that was it.

ZAYNAB: So we all went.

MAHA: Zaynab came the next day, and her father and Karim went somewhere else and I never [saw] them again.

That must weigh on your heart.

MAHA: Yes.

Why were you not in the same place [where your husband was killed]?

MAHA: … We did not live in the same place, but he used to come and visit us where we are staying. But that day he left because he had a lunch function or something and he need to do shopping to prepare for the lunch. That's why he left the house at that time. Actually he just stayed one night with us, the night before--

ZAYNAB: He usually comes for one night or so.

MAHA: For one night and that's it.

Then you heard about the military attack?

MAHA: No that was in September when I saw him last time. And when I heard about the military attack, it was Oct. 6 or 7.

ZAYNAB: It was almost a week later. For a week we didn't know where he was.

MAHA: No two weeks.

ZAYNAB: More about two weeks later. For a week we didn't know where he was and then we got this letter asking for these things.

MAHA: Food and clothes.

And what did you hear?

ZAYNAB: First we got the letter asking for some clothes and some homemade food. And by the time we got them ready, it took about two, three days, and then we gave them to whoever was going to take them back to him.

And by the time they were going, the guy came back and said you know we can't get them through because all the roads are blocked. Something is happening in that area, but we don't know what's happening and it seems that there's a lot of military movement and we're just hoping for the best.

And then you heard that there had been a military attack?

ZAYNAB: Yeah on Oct. 2 we were hearing -- my mom, usually she listens to the radio--

MAHA: And I read the newspaper.

ZAYNAB: So she says, "There is something happening, there's something happening." And I said, "Mom it's OK, don't worry, it will eventually go, it's just propaganda." And eventually somebody, they said it's really serious what's happening. I said, "Well it's serious as serious as it can get. Nothing's going to happen unless it's meant to happen, so just relax and take it easy." Then they came and said you know, most probably your dad and brother have been killed.

What was your reaction to that? It was meant to be?

MAHA: You see I'm a very, very proud person and I stand for my right. … So when they told me he was killed, you know it meant -- we believe that death come when God had planned it. Before he created the humanity, it's planned, so I just accept. It hurts.

ZAYNAB: And we believe the dying by the hand of your enemy because you believe in--

MAHA: Defending your right.

ZAYNAB: You're doing it in the way of God, of Allah. It's the best way to die. And my father had always wished that he would be killed … for the sake of Allah. I remember when we were very young he would say, "If you guys love me, pray for me that I get jihaded," which is being killed.

Become a martyr.

ZAYNAB: Yes, become a martyr. And we were really young and we would always say to him, people would say, you know, "What you're talking about, your dad would be killed," and we would say, "It's OK, he will become a martyr, and then he will--"

MAHA: Be in heaven.

ZAYNAB: And then on the day of judgement he can ask God to let us all go to heaven as well, so it's worth it. And that's what he always wished for.

MAHA: It hurts, it hurts very much because--

ZAYNAB: You know you're going to miss him but you're proud.

MAHA: Very much.

ZAYNAB: You're really glad he got what--

MAHA: He wanted.

ZAYNAB: -- he always wanted. He'd gotten really tired. He was not an old man.

MAHA: Physically and mentality tired he was at the very end.

ZAYNAB: He was just tired. … And he always used to say, "Kids … I'm very tired, and I think it's time for me to go. I'm very tired of this world and I think it's time for me to go." So when we heard he was killed, it was just like he can relax now.

MAHA: It's for us to complete the travel.

[When was] the next time you heard about Karim?

ZAYNAB: We heard about him on the news that, well it was just all this contradiction news -- that he'd been killed or he was alive. Some said my dad was killed, and some said my dad was alive, and some said my dad had escaped or that he was a prisoner. Some of the people said no your brother is alive, and he's being treated. … Then that was it until the Canadians called me and said you know we saw your brother yesterday and he's in the hospital in Pindi.

And what did that mean to you?

ZAYNAB: It meant not just that he was alive, it wasn't just a word, it was someone has really seen him. And when I saw the picture, I was like, yes, this is my brother.

MAHA: We were very happy to see him alive. But again it's the agony of having someone alive, but he is not in your custody, you cannot see him, you cannot reach him. It's very frightening.

What did the Canadian embassy tell you about his medical condition?

ZAYNAB: All they said is that he's got spinal injury and that he can't move his legs. He doesn't have feelings in his lower half. …

Did he describe the battle to you, the attack?

ZAYNAB: He said my dad told him to go out and see if everything was in place. And he said, "I just went out and I was walking with my friend," and there were four other men around with them. And one of the men just shouted that, "Get down, get down."

He said, "There was a small valley beside us and me and my friend just went down in the valley and the guy and his three men just kept walking." And then he said that the army or whoever it is threw a hand grenade, and the four of them were killed and he was shot in his back. He said, "I was shot and I fell," and his friend got shot in his shoulder and his friend is 16.

He said for the next three hours [they] were just lying there. That's his word, "It was really sunny and we were bleeding, and we kept calling them and asking them to come and take us, but nobody would come near." And then he said, "We eventually told them to just throw some water at least." He said they threw a bottle and it went really far, and his friend who was better, crawled and got the water. Then he said that until three hours [they] were just lying there, and then they eventually told [them] take off your shirts and throw them. So he did and then they came and picked [them] up. He was transferred … here by a helicopter.

Were they expecting an attack? Did they have any kind of warning?

ZAYNAB: No they weren't, because I told him, so this guy sort of, whichever the guy that shouted get down and save your life, and he said, "Actually he saved my life, and actually, I never knew there was an army until he shouted 'Get down.'" So no, they weren't expecting an attack. Because I [asked] him, "Did you have a weapon with you?" and he said, "I didn't have a weapon. I didn't know there was anything. I left my weapon with my dad."

So he was not carrying a weapon?

ZAYNAB: None whatsoever.

Did he describe to you the last words he had with his father?

ZAYNAB: I didn't ask him about that. He just said that my dad told me to go out and see if everything was in place.

So we don't know if they were expecting an attack. Do you know if there were women and children there as well or were there just men?

ZAYNAB: Actually, I wouldn't describe my brother as a man, nor his 16-year-old friend nor his 14-year-old friend, or his 11-year-old friend.

So what was the youngest person there?

ZAYNAB: He was 11.

So that was the youngest.

ZAYNAB: Yeah the youngest was 11, and then there was this 13, and my brother was 14 and there was a 16, and their fathers and a couple of other men. I mean it wasn't that they were preparing for anything, it doesn't seem like that. They were just there having a good time.

They were there having a good time?

ZAYNAB: Yeah, it's just a house on the mountain and they were just--

MAHA: Living there.

There was a reason they separated themselves from you, presumably.

ZAYNAB: They moved a lot, because it was not secure to stay in one place for a very long time. So they moved a lot, not for any particular reason, like they were expecting something.

MAHA: And the locals usually ask us to change our addresses because they don't want to take too much responsibility.

Maha, could you tell me where was Abdullah through all this? Was he with them?

MAHA: To be honest with you, in that environment in the mountain, you don't get to know too much. And frankly I'm not the type to question so much "what are you doing, where are you going?" You know all these details, I feel is none of my business , or it's information that will be any useful for me.

So to be honest with you, I did not know. Until now, I keep saying it's God's planning that Karim was with his father in that house, because Abdullah is more grown up and he's more mature and he can protect himself better.

So to your understanding was he living with them at that time?

MAHA: I don't know.

The last time you saw them were they together?

ZAYNAB: The last day we were at home, yes, we were all there. Abdullah drove us and he got me back. You know he'd drive back and forth, it wasn't that far away a place. They were three or four hours away from the village we were in, so you can drive. Abdullah was mainly, he does lots of driving actually, since it's a rural area, broken roads and it takes a very long time to get from place to place. So he mainly, I don't now if he was there or if he knew exactly where my father was, but I know that he goes back and forth.

Did he hear of the attack as well?

MAHA: He must have. You know I think he did because he knew his father was killed.

How is Abdullah? Maha, have you spoken to him? What is his situation?

MAHA: We received letters coming very, very short. "I'm fine, how are you doing," that's it. He needs something, he asks us to get a shoe or a jacket or anything like this, and we send it with some of the locals. I think he just lives. He doesn't like exactly the way it's happening, this way, but I don't know.

I'm interested in Abdullah's case as well. Has he done anything that will cause him to be prosecuted? Is there any reason that he cannot go back to Canada, for example? Does he want to go back to Canada?

MAHA: Just he's the son of Mr. Khadr.

But that's enough.

ZAYNAB: It's in the newspaper that he's--

MAHA: Running a training camp or he's a second hand of Mr. Osama.

ZAYNAB: No, no. That's my father.

MAHA: My husband never was associated with -- I mean Osama was living in an area where we were working in Jalalabad, or in Kandahar when we were doing some project. We would meet sometime in social gathering and Eid, prayer, weddings, or whatever, but we were never Al Qaeda. Although we respect their cause, we respect whatever, we have our kind of work, our programs. We will associate sometime, but we were never [Al Qaeda]. My husband is already paying, and all my family is.

ZAYNAB: Abdullah in the newspapers is a trainer at Al Qaeda training camp. He was never a trainer.

MAHA: Ahmed, when he was injured, he was with some people who were doing something, but they were not Al Qaeda.

Did your children go to the bin Laden training camps?

MAHA: The big boys did, Abdurahman.

ZAYNAB: There is no such thing as the bin Laden training camps, they're just training camps where anybody can go.

MAHA: Anybody from outside.

ZAYNAB: And they don't belong to bin Laden, and they don't belong to Al Qaeda.

Who do they belong to?

ZAYNAB: You don't have to be from Al Qaeda to be a trainer in the training camp. They just want a trainer for whatever, who's good at it. … And so it would be a training camp with some trainers who know what they're doing. Anybody can attend these training camps. And it's not exactly just for weaponry.

MAHA: Maybe people in charge must become, I think the people in charge must be--

ZAYNAB: Ma, not always. I don't think it's always, because sometimes if they can't afford it, different groups can help each other financially or if they have expertise. So it doesn't really belong to anybody. You don't have a training camp for Al Qaeda and a training camp for Al Jihad and a training camp for Gama'a al-Islamiyya. You just have a training camp in Logar, a training camp in Jalalabad, a training camp in Khost sometimes. So it's just a training camp and you never know, does this belong to this? It's just a training camp. It's more like being in a military school.

MAHA: With Abdurahman, it was mainly to teach him discipline and to keep him off the road. He was always kicked out, maybe he told you that. Nobody ever accepted because he never listened and he never followed the rules. He never wakes up on time, he never memorize his Quran.

For Abdullah, I think he was more disciplined, but Abdullah never get along with the guys there because he feels they underestimate him or they don't respect his opinion or they are too fanatic.

ZAYNAB: But he'd stay and finish whatever he was supposed to do and then he'd leave. But Abdurahman would just make a fight, and you'd just find him home next day. You'd just find him home next day. "I just had a fight, I'm not going back there again, no way you can ever get me back there again." And my father would get in the car and say, "Abdurahman, we're going back," and take him back. And in a couple of days, he'd be back. It was just back and forth all the time.

They tried to put him in school, he'd run away. They tried to put him in Karachi in a Quran school, and he came back on the bus.

MAHA: He tried to get him a job in Kabul again and he is never on time.

ZAYNAB: So these training camps are not just for you to use a weapon, it's more like it gives them discipline and teach them their religion and teach them how to do things the right way. And it's more like being in a common school. You have to just do everything very strict.

MAHA: And military training is part of it.

ZAYNAB: It's not everything. It's just part of it.

Abdurahman described it as an Al Qaeda-related camp.

MAHA: Maybe, because frankly they all had something with the guys from Al Qaeda, because they always think that they are superior to everybody else.

ZAYNAB: And maybe most of the guys around him were from Al Qaeda, so he thought maybe it was an Al Qaeda camp. It just doesn't necessarily have to be an Al Qaeda, maybe it was. I told you it doesn't have stigma that says this is an Al Qaeda training camp. Maybe some of them were and some of them weren't. They're not all Al Qaeda training camps.

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

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.

Maha you described him, that Osama and your husband were old friends. Did they know each other from the Afghanistan war?

MAHA: Yes, that's when they met, the Afghanistan war.

ZAYNAB: It's not like you were his friend, it's like my father was the kind that respected people for their points of views. Even if you and me are different, I accept your point of view. I can't change it even if I don't like it. I respect [it], and you respect mine, so even if he had his--

MAHA: They had their differences.

ZAYNAB: But he respected him as a person that is standing up for something he believes in and is willing to sacrifice for it, and who is doing a lot of good for people who are helping him, these people who are keeping him in their country and he is helping them doing many things. So he respected him as a person and as a leader of his group or whatever he believes in.

But we were never part of them. We were never except as a part of any group, so we were always outsiders which you can see the ironic part of that, were not from this side and were not from that side, nor these like us, nor these like us. Each of them is throwing us to the other side.

Did you support the Taliban?

MAHA: Government wise, no never. Actually we had some differences with them because they were so much anti-girls education and--

ZAYNAB: They were always stubborn.

MAHA: Very stubborn and very old. Ignorant, even in Islamic understanding they were very ignorant. But we thought we would do our part to help them, not to help the government. So you know we really have many, many negatives, but we never like to talk about the negatives, because it was not our interest to emphasize the negatives. It was our interest to help the needy in any which way we can. Even if we really have to fight with the Taliban to get our project and to keep it running, and to do whatever pleased them just to keep it running we would do it.

ZAYNAB: My father, he said, "Don't look for differences, look for things in common. If you don't agree with this person on something leave this person and see what you agree with this person on, and work on that." So whatever he had that he did not agree with the Taliban, he just tried to go around it to what they did agree upon, and just work on that and ignore the rest. This was the way he worked. Some people say you got along with him because you probably supported them, it wasn't true. It's because my dad had a way of just--

MAHA: And we had a hard time but--

ZAYNAB: Yeah, but if he wanted to do something, he'd get to it and drop mentioning the bad parts. He always like to see the best of a bad situation.

MAHA: You know, they kept saying oh they're against teaching girls, they're against this and they kept just emphasizing all the Taliban negatives, and they never done anything to help them with their -- OK, if you cannot help them in education, help them in housewife. They would allow you to bring any medical assistance, help them with the orphanage, help them in any kind of assistance they allow you to get close to them. …

ZAYNAB: I mean sometimes people just didn't try to understand, I mean they are stubborn people, and I'm not telling you they are perfect, but I for one could understand sometimes why they had these restrictions for things, for girls. To them, they wanted girls to be educated Islamically. It's their right. It is their government, and they believe in emphasizing Islamic law, so they wanted their girls to be educated Islamically. And since Afghanistan had be ruled by the Russians or the Soviets for the last 20 years, they didn't have many Islamic ladies to teach these girls, so they, for them it was better for these girls not to learn than to learn to be--

MAHA: Communist mentality.

ZAYNAB: Yeah. For her to be ignorant is better than for her to be communist.

Maha, when Osama bin Laden turned his attention away from the Russians and he declared war against the Americans, who he called the crusaders, and went to war against the crusaders and the Jews, what was your reaction to that?

MAHA: To be honest with you, for us it doesn't matter the name of our enemy. For me, I'm originally Palestinian, from Palestine. For me, Israel is an enemy, although I never had any contact because I was not even born in Palestine. But because of what I hear they are doing, it hurts me everyday, everyday seeing people being killed, or being arrested or their homes being demolished. So it hurts me.

So for him to change his [rhetoric] against America , it's because of what the Americans have done in the Gulf. They have really abused Muslims too much, I mean 50 years ago, still they were helping Israel. Israel is number one to receive assistance from the States. Nobody ever noticed that the Americans are assisting the Israeli people, but when the Americans declared war against the Muslims and they came to Saudi Arabia because you see we believe Saudi Arabia is the holy land that no non-Muslims should rule in it.

ZAYNAB: No non-Muslim is allowed to enter it.

MAHA: Not even to enter it, and now the Americans are even running their own military camps in it, it became very annoying to any Muslim.

ZAYNAB: By the way, you know, he never, never, changed his angle. He did not declare war on the Russians and eventually declare war on the Americans. We fought the Russians because they invaded Muslim land, and when they were kicked out, we had nothing to fight them for. So they were finished.

And then the Americans started entering Muslim land, so it was just their turn. We are not fighting them because we like war. Us Muslims, we are not war people, but we do not like our rights to be taken. And he started it being very nicely, we really ask the Americans very politely to leave our country. You say you came for the Gulf War, the Gulf War is finished. Why are you staying? It is our right, this is our country to tell you that you were welcome then, you are not welcome now. We would like you to pack and leave. And the Americans won't leave.

So if you go back to how it all started, he did ask very nicely, and the people with him did ask, they said we are not enemies of the kingdom, we are not enemies of the army, we are not enemies of the government. All we are asking is that this is our land, and we would like these people to be out.

You know his first major military action was the African embassy bombings. What was your reaction to those?

ZAYNAB: They don't go and say excuse me, what did you feel about this, or were going to do this, what do you think about it? You just hear about it, and then you're like, oh some people are doing something.

So you thought it was not a bad idea then.

ZAYNAB: It's not that it wasn't a bad idea. First of all we thought, why Kenya and Tanzania? And then they said it's the biggest CIA in the Middle East.

MAHA: To be honest with you, we hate the Americans moving around in our country.

ZAYNAB: And he said before he did that, when he asked so many times, he said look, every American will become a target -- every American out of Afghanistan because Islamically, you cannot hurt a non-Muslim in an Islamic state. And we believed that Taliban was an Islamic state because they tried as hard as they could to emphasize Islamic laws. You could not hurt a hair on any non-Muslim's head or body in Afghanistan. [You] could be walking in the street, and you'd be like, "It's an American, and I cannot do anything." You can't even be impolite to him.

But he told them that when you chose not to leave Saudi and the Gulf you are making every single American a target. Because he said we as people have feelings as well, this is our land, you're taking it, and one day, somebody is going to rebel. And always whenever he was asked about people who did any operations in Kenya, Tanzania, or in Bali or in the States, he never said, "I knew who was doing it." He just said, "I think these are very brave people who have done something like that." Because as far as I know, he did not know who was doing the operation on Sept. 11, and he did not know when it was going to happen.

You don't think so?

ZAYNAB: I know so.

Why do you say that?

ZAYNAB: Because he always used to say, whenever you heard it that there are people outside who are working and just pray that they are protected, that no harm should befall them. And we would always say, "When? What is going to happen?" And he'd always say, "I don't know. I know something is happening, but I don't know what and I don't know where."

And for two years, he was saying that something might be happening, something might be happening. So I think that if he knew when and what was happening he wouldn't have started it two years [before] saying something is going to happen.

MAHA: Maybe he know there was some planning, but--

ZAYNAB: Maybe he gave money, maybe he gave an OK, maybe someone asked him, what do you think, or maybe it was mentioned. So he maybe knew something was going to happen, but he didn't know when or where or what.

They say this was the idea principally of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Did you ever see him did you know him or see him around?

MAHA: Never, never.

ZAYNAB: I think the first one to have the idea was Ramzi Yousef. He was the one who first tried it.

Because he was the author of the first World Trade Center attack and they had talked about hijacking planes.

MAHA: You know shedding blood, and killing is very painful. I don't know your people, but assume it was your son or your wife who had been slaughtered right in front of you, would you feel proud? You feel angry. You feel like you want to take revenge. You know, I know, maybe in the West, people are very cool, they take it very coldly if a child is raped, or being killed. In Afghanistan, in the tribal areas, people are full of respect for revenge. They will take revenge even if it's their cousin. They will take revenge. People have different feelings about--

ZAYNAB: It's known that the Easterns are very hot blooded. As far as I can see, they are. And I mean they've been quiet for quite a long time.

MAHA: We've been crushed for a long time, can't you see, and there is a lot of unjust--

ZAYNAB: I mean, we don't like seeing people killed. We can be watching an American movie and we know that we know that they're all Americans, and we know that it's just a movie, and that they're all actors, and you get sympathetic with the person whose getting killed. You keep saying it's an actor it's an actor, he's American, he's American. It just doesn't work because you're just sympathetic with the whole situation.

At the same time, when you're seeing your people being killed and killed and killed, everyday, everyday, everyday, and then you see whoever is doing this, or someone who has anything to do with him being killed, you don't want to feel happy. But you just sort of think, "They deserve it. They've been doing it for such a long time, why shouldn't they feel it once in a while?"

Maha, how did you and your husband react to Sept. 11 when you saw those video reports on television?

ZAYNAB: We never saw them on television.

I guess when you heard about it then.

MAHA: My husband was not in town. He was in Jalalabad, and I was in Kabul. To be honest with you, since I am Palestinian and I know the Americans are helping the Israelis so much, I said, "Let them have it. It's time that they feel," -- look, I don't want you to think--

ZAYNAB: Not the people themselves.

MAHA: Not the innocent people in the building, but I want to hurt that person, whoever give the order to the Israeli to kill the Palestinian. But you know, innocent people pay the price. Even in Afghanistan, innocent people have to be--

ZAYNAB: Sometimes you want to hurt somebody. I don't think whoever did that really wanted to kill all these people, or to kill people who had nothing to do with anything. But he really wanted to hit the American government where it will hurt it. Not the people, but it.

I mean sometimes innocent people pay the price. The Afghans, many of them are paying, for something they didn't even like. They did not like the Arabs being in Afghanistan but they are dying for it anyways. The Iraqis who hated Saddam are being killed nowadays for I don't know for what reason, although they hated Saddam and they probably had nothing against the states and they are still dying for it. Most of the time innocent people are paying the price.

In Palestine -- I mean, I insist on calling it Palestine and I will until the day I die because I don't believe in Israel and I don't believe you can build a state on the blood of another one. Thousands of years ago, it's always been Palestinian until 50 years ago. What happened to the map? Why did the name change?

MAHA: History changed completely.

ZAYNAB: It has always been Palestine, why did all of a sudden become Israel? What gave them the right to build their country on that of another? What gave them the right to destroy peoples houses, to kick them out of their houses, to kill their children, their men, their women, for what reason?

Maha, in Al Qaeda, children were taught to become suicide bombers, or think that was a good idea.

MAHA: I don't think so. This suicide bombing, I only heard about it when the Palestinians started doing it, people in Palestine. But to be honest with you, and until today--

ZAYNAB: Me and my brothers, we don't believe in suicide bombings.

MAHA: It's not being afraid of dying.

ZAYNAB: We're not saying that whoever is doing this is doing something wrong, I mean that's for him to decide between him and himself and his Lord. But I don't think that's the best way of doing things.

But do you understand Maha, why some parents would want their children to become suicide bombers?

ZAYNAB: I never heard anyone tell their children that he would like them to be a suicide bomber.

MAHA: Never. I can understand why someone would go--

ZAYNAB: I mean maybe we really respect those people. Not respect them, I think you must be a very brave person who is going and knowing I'm going to die.

MAHA: No not die, blow up.

ZAYNAB: It's not: He's in a battle he gets killed. It's: The minute I press this button or the minute I hit that building, I'm dead. And I know, and I'm doing it. You must be very brave. You must be very, very, very brave. I mean I don't have the guts to do that yet.

MAHA: And maybe because they have so much pain, so much pain, to the point to get you to walk into that--

ZAYNAB: I'm not afraid of death.

MAHA: But not this way.

ZAYNAB: But I don't think I have the courage to do it myself.

Maha, I guess a lot of Canadians would say how could a mother send her children to these camps for this kind of military training?

MAHA: To be a brave man. I like my son to be brave. I mean as I was telling you, if I was in Canada, I would like my son to be trained to protect himself, to protect his home, to protect his neighbor, to see a young girl innocent, being raped or attacked, to really fight to defend it. I would really love to do that, and I would love my son to grow with this mentality. … So I would do training my child to defend his rights, it's OK.

ZAYNAB: And as Muslims, we are ordered to be trained, and always be ready--

MAHA: To defend ourselves.

ZAYNAB: The prophet ordered that people should get their children trained in swimming, aiming or sniping, and horseback riding. These are the three most important thing for a child even before he learns to read and write. …

MAHA: And you would you like me to raise my child in Canada and by the time he's 12 or 13 he'll be on drugs or having some homosexual relation or this and that? Is it better? For me, no. I would rather have my son as a strong man who knows right and wrong and stands for it, even if it's against his parents. It's much better for me than to have my child walking on the streets in Canada taking drugs or doing all this nonsense.

You said that you were happy for your husband, that he wanted to die a martyr and he did. Do you want to see your children die the same death?

MAHA: Yes.

Fighting for Allah?

MAHA: Yes.

ZAYNAB: I'd love to die like that. I'd love my daughter to die--

MAHA: You know, we are promised that we go to heaven.

ZAYNAB: Hold on. I'd like you to go and meet kids on the street who have nothing to do with anything and tell them "would you like to die in your bed or die as a shaheed?"

As a martyr.

ZAYNAB: Yeah. And see what they'd answer. A Muslim.

MAHA: Even if simple, very simple, naïve. Yeah it's heaven. It's heaven, you know.

ZAYNAB: A shaheed is something really, really great. I mean, people who have nothing to do with religious, anything, when it comes to a shaheed, even the government of Pakistan when they're celebrating the martyrs of these people who died during the war to have independence, they are respected very much. They are heroes although they are already dead. But to them it's not that they're just dead, it's that they're shaheeds. That's what makes them here.

MAHA: And we are all dying at the very end. We are all dying. So you can choose the way you die or you can die just [with] drugs or whatever. But it's not funny to die and it's not very simple to be separated. It's very, very painful and it's very sometimes frightening. But we are all dying.

And you know, we thought we were perfect Canadians when we were helping everybody just for the sake of our belief. Not because Canada forced us, Canada encouraged us to do the relief work. But inside, we believe that we really have to do something to help others and to be proud of it in the hereafter, you know.

ZAYNAB: Death is a scary thing and for us the only thing that makes it not so scary is dying for the cause of Allah. Because we believe that each and every person would be questioned on the day of judgement for everything he did and said.

We also believe that the second you get into your grave that's when your [accountability] starts. That's when you start being either rewarded for your good deeds or being punished for your bad deeds.

We also believe that the grave can be a very dark and very difficult place and that people in there are not exactly dead. They're in another state. It's just you're not a life and you're not in the hereafter. You'd sort of in a transit and that they feel the punishment or they feel their reward. And for us, for you to be able to be granted that you will succeed in all these is for you to be a martyr. That's practically the only way that you would not be tortured in the grave, that you're staying for whatever long time would be a pleasant thing and that your bad deeds will all be forgiven. And that on the day of judgement you'd be -- a shaheed means a witness so you'd be a witness on the nations and that you'd be granted to ask a love of forgiveness for 70 of your family and that you'd be very close to the prophets.

So I mean you get many, many privileges if you die for the way of Allah, not necessarily you have to die in battle. Some people they really wish to die as a shaheed, as a martyr and it's their intention even if they die in their bed they get their reward.

MAHA: The prophet said to die when you're defending your blood or to die when you're defending your home or to die while you are defending your virginity is a martyr.

Maha, your son Omar, who is in Guantanamo, is accused of killing an American soldier by rolling a grenade out and killing an American medic. If that is true, are you proud of him for doing that?

MAHA: Of course. He defended himself. …

ZAYNAB: If you were in that situation what would you have done? I'd like to ask everybody that.

MAHA: I hope you don't say I would bow down, say, "No, no, no."

ZAYNAB: Hold your hands in the air, "Don't shoot." …

MAHA: Wouldn't you like your Canadian son to be so brave to stand up and fight for his right?

ZAYNAB: He'd been bombarded for four hours. Three of his friends who were with him had been killed. He was the only sole survivor. What do you expect him to do?

I'd like to know what they expected him to do, come up with his hands in the air? I mean it's a war. They're shooting at him. Why can't he shoot at you? If you killed three why can't he kill one? Why does nobody say you killed three of his friends? Why does everybody say you killed an American soldier. Big deal.

It seems as if Abdurahman might have cooperated to some degree with the Americans to get out of captivity. How do you feel about that? Are you ashamed of him for doing that?

MAHA: He used his intelligence and it's okay.

ZAYNAB: As long as he didn't really help them. If he did, I'd be really ashamed of him. If he just fooled them, I don't mind it. If he really did something, I'd be ashamed of him.

Why? Because it's cooperating?

ZAYNAB: Because Islamically you're not allowed to cooperate with the enemy even if it'll cost you your life. …

Why was Omar not with the others? Why was he in a different place?

MAHA: No, Omar was with us and at some time I remember his father told me that he was just going with some group of people to translate for them or to do some work because he is much better in English, even in Pashto, Farsi. And that's all I know. Actually I was shocked when I heard that Omar was injured, or captured or killed or whatever at the beginning.

ZAYNAB: My dad didn't know either.

MAHA: For a whole month Omar was missing and we were trying to find out his whereabouts until they said Omar was in some kind of military attack or something. And the news came piece by piece until, you know, that we find out. Actually she found first from the Internet that he was in Cuba. We did not know. We knew he was in a kind of battle and he was either killed or arrested and that's it.

ZAYNAB: He got on this group for the translation, whatever and they were staying in a house. And the Americans are paying everybody so much if they give them some information. Someone went and said you know, there are some Arabs in this house, so the Americans came, they had a gun battle and they wouldn't give up so they asked for air force. That's how it happened.

I'm told there's a video of Omar making bombs that would be part of the evidence against him. Would that surprise you or not?

ZAYNAB: Yes, very much because Omar is one of the ones that did not have military training.

So it just doesn't seem true to you that he could be doing that.

ZAYNAB: I mean I think my brothers Karim and Omar can shoot an AK-47 or a gun. He can throw a grenade yes. But to prepare a bomb? I don't think so.

MAHA: Not anybody can do this.

ZAYNAB: I mean I know some trainers who lost their fingers doing that. So I don't think a 15 year old who has never done it before, never had training for it would all of a sudden be able to do it.

MAHA: Anyway it's a time where people grew much faster than their age, you know. I mean boys or children they know much, much more than we expect. I don't know.

You mentioned these study circles. 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?


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.

ZAYNAB: I mean, we weren't living like queens as she's saying. Believe me. We always slept on the floor. We never had carpets. We always had this plastic thing on the floor and we were living in a house in Kabul which was made of--

MAHA: Concrete.

ZAYNAB: Yeah. It was marble, the floor, but we couldn't help it much, the house that we're sitting in, staying in. But otherwise we lived a very simple life all our life although we never had our own car. I was like, "Dad, come on here, you're the director of such and such and we don't even have our own car." And he said, "I don't have the money to buy a car."

We'd say, you know, "People who are less well off than us have their own car." And he said, "Well don't compare yourself to others. We don't need a car and we're not going to have one because we don't need one." …

So he was always sort of "don't look too high because we're not staying." He always said, "This world is not for us to stay. In this world we're just travelers. So being light you can move easy. You be heavy you stick down. So get as light as you can." Of course we're not that light, we've been living here for the last 20 years and in 20 years you get heavy.

MAHA: We get lots of books and lots of pictures.

ZAYNAB: And my dad loves books.

Was Osama the same way with his children? 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.

Maha, what were your impressions of him?

MAHA: To be honest with you my husband is the first and last man in my life. Nobody better than him. Osama is fine. I respect him for fighting for what he believed. As I was saying, I don't like killing and blood shedding. It's very painful but I think this is a sign of this time, of this world. It's everywhere -- Americans, Muslims, Arabs. Everywhere. I hate this but this is the way it is.

ZAYNAB: This is the language of the times. …

Do you think that Osama has created a big success with his war against the United States?

ZAYNAB: I don't know. … Ask for results. We're not responsible for results. We're asked to do whatever we can and that, I mean I can [take] exams, study as hard as I can but I can't be responsible for if I pass or fail. I do all I can and try as hard as I can. That's all I'm asked to do.

I guess I had the impression that there are a lot of more moderate Muslims around the world who felt that he has brought untold misery on to the heads of Muslims. He's brought hatred towards Muslims in the United States, in North America, in Europe.

ZAYNAB: There's no such a thing as moderate Islam. Islam is Islam. It's been there and it's been the same. Fourteen hundred years ago the same book. The same prophet. That's how it's going to be for until the day of judgment.

MAHA: It's not like Christianity, 2,000 years ago Jesus -- bless him, for us we believe he's a prophet, may God has blessing on him -- he said homosexuality is forbidden. Adultery is forbidden. Now it's all allowed. So this is modern Christianity. But for us, no.

ZAYNAB: I mean you can't bring two Bibles that would have the exact same things in it. You can bring as many Qurans as you like and open the exact suras and the exact same verses and you find exactly the same.

So you don't think there's such a thing as a moderate Muslim?

ZAYNAB: No. You either follow the Quran or you don't follow the Quran.

MAHA: Moderate Muslims are not following the complete Quran. …

Did you have any differences with Osama bin Laden and his world outlook and whatnot? What did you disagree with?

MAHA: It's not himself personally. It's the people around him. They were kind of, sometime unjust, sometime they were--

ZAYNAB: Hard-minded.

MAHA: -- or taking sides or you know. They not allow Abdurahman in the compound period because they just did not like Abdurahman.

ZAYNAB: They didn't trust him.

MAHA: Period.

ZAYNAB: And you know what? For the Americans we're Al Qaeda, for the Al Qaeda we're Canadians.

MAHA: Yes.

ZAYNAB: It's really weird where you end up. I swear, we were never accepted because you know, we're Canadians. "They're the Canadians. They're the Canadians." Whatever thing we do different it's like, "it's okay, they're the Canadians."

MAHA: If we read English novel they think this is bad. If our kids have English movies we are not completely accepted in their society.

ZAYNAB: My father had nothing with women talking to men. You don't go socializing, but if you need to talk to them you talk to them. It's nothing unreligious in it. And for us to work or for girls or women to work and learn is no problem as long as she's doing it in the right way and for a good reason.

But some of them were just too narrow minded that no, women are for the house and that's how you're supposed to do it. And if you don't do that you're bad. So we were bad.

MAHA: And they would not allow their wives to visit us or socialize with us--

ZAYNAB: Because we were a bad influence.

MAHA: We're bad influence, yes. So they would come to us if they need--

ZAYNAB: If someone needed to go to the hospital--

MAHA: Or shopping.

ZAYNAB: They'd ask my dad to send one of us with his wife to the hospital because we could speak the language. But we were bad because my father allowed us to go with the driver.

That's some of the people, not everybody. Osama was pretty broad minded.

If you were bad, how was Abdurahman seen? He must have been just the devil incarnate.

ZAYNAB: Yeah he just did whatever he wanted to do. He didn't care. He'd just go. And we'd be like, "Why are you supposed to not go there?" "It doesn't matter, I want to see my friends." And everybody's like, "He never listens, we're going to have to do this and this and that. Abdurahman, don't do it again." "Yeah okay I won't do it again." …

If Abdurahman is such a troublemaker, did Osama ever complain about him to your husband?

MAHA: Not Osama, his people. Yes, they said Abdurahman is not allowed. Even us as a family we were kind of pushed away many times, practically pushed away. Don't come because of Abdurahman. And Abdullah, but mainly Abdurahman.

ZAYNAB: But Osama he was kind of a broad-minded person and he had kids who were teenagers and they must have had their problems and he knew you have to deal with them. You can't just push them away. These kids, if you push them away they'll just go and find whatever they want somewhere else. You just have to accept them and make them feel wanted and that they're important, otherwise they'll just find it somewhere else. …

But you didn't feel that sometimes your whole family was punished because of Abdurahman?

MAHA: Oh yes, yes, many times.

ZAYNAB: "It's all your fault."

MAHA: Many times.

ZAYNAB: Oh I couldn't do anything. We'd all be like, "if you obey the orders, if you listen, if you do this, if you do this, we would have been like this, or the people wouldn't have said this, or people wouldn't have done this."

MAHA: And the very last days, not any of the camps would accept Abdurahman.

ZAYNAB: Nobody would take him.

MAHA: Nobody would take him.

ZAYNAB: "We take Abdullah, but not Abdurahman."

MAHA: And Abdullah, he's a quiet but he have his self pride that if somebody assault him -- you see because we have this little bit Western mentality. We see things open much wider. The Arab community do not accept us the way that we are. So they keep sometime putting him down that he kept it in himself.

ZAYNAB: So they're all accepting to take Abdullah who does not want to go and their not accepting to take Abdurahman who we'd like them to take. So they ended up both not going. …

So Abdullah was accused of the suicide bombing in Kabul. What was your reaction to that when you heard?

MAHA: I did not know actually. She heard this first and she told me. I can't, of course. I know my son, he would not do a suicide.

ZAYNAB: As soon as I mentioned it to Abdul Karim, he was like, "Abdullah he'd never do it." I said, "That's exactly the way I thought." …

How do you feel about the United States now after what you have seen these last few years?

MAHA: I know the States must have some good people, but I think the government is rotten.

ZAYNAB: Now they're trying to play God.

MAHA: Yeah.

ZAYNAB: Nobody can play God. God will break them very bad. I mean when the Russians tried to play God, God showed them who was God. It's the same thing.

MAHA: He chose the weakest people to break the Russians you know.

ZAYNAB: It's the exact same thing and actually it will be -- I mean the British were broken in Afghanistan the Russians were broken in Afghanistan and the Americans are coming just the same to be broken in Afghanistan. They will be.

MAHA: I feel sorry because they're not learning their lesson.

ZAYNAB: I remember I told my dad Afghanistan is the graveyard of the supreme powers. Maybe on every international border of Afghanistan they should have these three graves with one with the British flag and another one with the Soviet flag and another one without a flag so [when] the Americans fall we'll just put the American flag there. And he just laughed and he said, "You know people don't learn. If people would just read history it would save them so much trouble." …


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posted april 22, 2004

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