Fears of reprisal force bin Laden family to flee their homes in US

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The Independent US

There was apparently no official warning, but undoubtedly the relatives of Osama bin Laden realised that – at least for the time being – America might not be the most comfortable place for them to live.

Relatives of Mr bin Laden have fled their homes in the United States amid fears that they would be targets of reprisals aimed at the man they disowned years ago.

They left on Tuesday 18 September – a week after the terror attacks on New York and Washington – in a privately chartered aircraft, its seats rearranged to give the handful of passengers more room. They left from Logan airport, Boston, the airport from which two of the hijacked planes had taken off seven days earlier.

A spokesman for the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington denied claims yesterday that the bin Ladens had been told by the FBI and the Saudi government to return. He said: "There was no official warning from the government that they should go but maybe they thought it would be better if they went home."

Reports suggest that Mr bin Laden may have up to 25 relatives living around the city of Boston. Some of them, including one of Mr bin Laden's brothers, Mohammed, are well known.

In the aftermath of the attacks, the FBI has made repeated searches of Flagship Wharf, the apartment complex in the Boston suburb of Charlestown where many of the relatives live.

Another brother of Mr bin Laden, Abdullah M bin Laden, is a 1994 graduate of Harvard Law School and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Whether he is among those who have left is not known. A family lawyer was unavailable for comment yesterday.

Other relatives are students in the Boston area. One of these, Faisal bin Laden, Mr bin Laden's nephew, has left the University of New Hampshire where he is a first-year student, though he reportedly told friends he intended to return.

Mr bin Laden is the son of Mohammad bin Awdah Laden from southern Yemen. When his father moved to Saudi Arabia he made a fortune in construction, renovating the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in projects that not only added to his wealth but made the bin Ladens highly respected citizens in the eyes of the Saudi Royal Family and the general population.

Mr bin Laden is said to have 51 siblings. They, in keeping with his other relatives, have apparently disowned both him and his extreme views.

It is unclear how many relatives of Mr bin Laden have returned in recent days to Saudi Arabia, most probably to the city of Jedda where the family is based. Some reports said just five members left on 18 September, flying in a Boeing 727 that had been reconfigured and contained only 30 seats, all in first class.

Another relative, Mr bin Laden's half-brother, Khalil Mohammed bin Laden, is the Brazilian honorary consul in Jedda. He was given the position in 1998 after marrying a Brazilian woman he met while studying in America. A Brazilian foreign ministry spokesman said there were no plans to remove him from this post. "There's nothing wrong with his work. He will remain in the position as long as we are pleased with his performance," the spokesman told Veja magazine.

The Saudi government has warned all its nationals living in America to take extra care as a number of the suspected hijackers were from that country. An embassy spokesman added: "We have advised our citizens to be careful, but to go on with their lives. We told them to use common sense, to avoid bars. Don't go to areas where people might get rowdy."

He said about two dozen students had returned to Saudi Arabia on flights provided by the Saudi government.