Bin Laden's former sister-in-law on shadow cast over her life

'The name has been difficult to live with, especially since 9/11,' says Carmen Binladen

Nick Harding
Thursday 05 May 2011 00:00

Carmen Binladen's life changed forever when Osama bin Laden masterminded the terrorist atrocities of 9/11. And though the terror chief's former sister-in-law is now satisfied justice has been served by his death, she maintains that his close-knit family in Saudi Arabia will still be mourning his death.

Ms Binladen, who was married to Osama's brother Yeslam and lived in the bin Laden family inner circle for over a decade, believes that despite his actions, Osama was protected by his followers until his death and revered by many in the powerful clan as a hero.

Speaking from her home in Geneva, she said: "In Saudi Arabia a brother is a brother, no matter whether you agree with him politically or not. Some of his family were very close to him ideologically and I cannot believe they wanted death for him.

"He was considered by a lot of people to be a good Muslim. I never heard anyone claim he was too serious or severe. The impression I had living with the family was that in Saudi you are never too pious. People protected him. There are a huge number of people who supported him and regarded him as a role model."

Although she believes the world is a safer place following his death she warns of repercussions. "If there is one less person in the world to harm innocent people for no reason then the world is a little bit safer. However, the war on terror is not over unfortunately. We still have to be vigilant. The fanatics are here to stay, even though they have lost their great Osama; their symbolic head."

Ms Binladin grew up in Switzerland and married in 1974. Soon after, she moved into the bin Laden family compound in Jeddah, where she lived until fleeing the repressive state in 1985.

Living with the bin Laden surname has cast a shadow over her life and the lives of her three daughters.

"The name has been very difficult to carry because of Osama's actions," she explained. "His beliefs and actions go against everything my daughters and I believe. I will never forget 9/11. I was in Switzerland and my eldest daughter was staying with me but was studying in New York. When the second plane hit I knew that our lives would change forever. I told my girls that it would be a matter of hours before their name would be all over the news.

"It was a terrible time. My oldest was trying to call her friends in New York. There were so many people suffering. As a mother and a westerner my heart went out to all those people. I knew there would be mothers trying to call their children. Osama had touched my world and my values and the irony was that we were carrying his name. I felt an acute compassion for the suffering of all those people who lost loved ones and also, as a mother, the worry that my daughters would be affected."

Despite a liberal Western background, Swiss-born Ms Binladin had a unique insight into bin Laden family life and met Osama on several occasions. During one meeting she opened the door to him without wearing a veil and he turned his back on her refusing to look at her bare face.

On another occasion she travelled through the desert with one of Osama's wives and his baby son. The infant was dehydrating in the heat but the mother could only attempt to give him water from a spoon because Osama forbade the use of bottles with rubber teats, as part of his interpretation of Islam.

"That was one of my first wake-up calls, when I first started to question whether I could raise children in Saudi," recalled Ms Binladin. "It made me realise what would happen to my children if I stayed in Saudi Arabia. Osama's behaviour opened my eyes. Despite the obvious suffering of his son, he was admired and looked up to by his family for his zealous beliefs, he was revered as a great Muslim."

In 2004 Ms Binladin, published a book, Inside the Kingdom: My Life in Saudi Arabia, about her years in Saudi Arabia. She admits to concerns about her safety speaking out against her former brother-in-law and his followers, but maintained: "If we do not speak out, they have won and I don't want them to win."

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