Osama was a warlord, who assisted the Afghan rebels in their fight against the Soviet occupation of their country. When the Soviets left, Osama returned home, to Saudi Arabia. For many he was already a hero.
When Iraq invaded Kuwait, in 1990, Osama was outraged at the idea that U.S. forces might use Saudi Arabia as a base. He offered Saudi King Fahd the use of his Afghan warriors to fight Saddam Hussein. Some of the more religious princes thought Osama's ideas had merit, but King Fahd refused.
Osama began making incendiary statements against the corruption and moral bankruptcy of the Saudi ruling family, and the Americans who were defending them. Finally, Osama was forced to leave his country, and take refuge in Sudan, where his compound of armed men was surrounded by sentries in tanks. Then he moved back to Afghanistan.
In those days, even though we were separated, I was still on speaking terms with Yeslam, who kept me up-to-date on the evolution in Saudi Arabia and the Bin Laden family newsincluding Osama's whereabouts. Yeslam told me that Osama's power was growing, despite his exile. Osama, he said, was under the protection of conservative members of the Saudi royal family.
In 1996, when a truck bomb blasted the Khobar Towers living quarters of American forces posted in Dahran, in eastern Saudi Arabia, Osama was mentioned as a possible culprit. I was dumbstruck, yet I knew it could be true. Who else could possibly have at his disposal enough explosives in a country so highly controlled? Osama was a warrior, a zealot, and a member of the family that jointly owned the Bin Laden Organizationthe wealthiest and most powerful construction company in Saudi Arabia. I knew of Osama's fiercely extreme opinions, and deep down I felt that he was capable of a terrible, blind violence.
As attack followed attack, I read everything I could lay my hands on about Osama. So on September 9, 2001, when the news broke of the attack on Afghan fighter Ahmed Shah Massoud, I realized it had to be Osama's doing. I walked over to the television, with a sick feeling. "This is Osama. He is getting ready for something truly awful." "Oh Carmen, you're obsessed," scoffed a friend of mine. But I knew.
I wish I had been wrong.
It never occurred to me that Osama was plotting an assault on the heart of New York. I thought perhaps it would be an embassythat would have been bad enough. But when the World Trade Center went down in flames just two days after Massoud's death, it hit me again. The sick feeling in my stomach. The fear.
Now I know that it will never go away again.
In the days that followed the attack on the World Trade Center, our lives revolved around the TV news bulletins. The toll of victims kept rising, as the dust settled on the ashen streets of my children's favorite city. We watched people searching for the missing, clutching old snapshots in their hands. Bereaved relatives told reporters about the last phone messages left on their answering machines before their loved ones died. There were those awful photographs of people jumping. I kept thinking, "What if Wafah had been there?" I felt so very deeply for those mothers, for those children.
My three girls were distraught with grief and bewilderment. Noor, the girl who just one year earlier had brought an American flag home from South Carolina to stick on her bedroom wall, sank into despondency. She sobbed, "Mom, New York will never be the same." Fortunately, she never became the target of hostility from her classmates: Her pro-American cheerleading had made her the subject of friendly teasing for years, so all her friends realized how truly hurt my little girl was.
We hardly left the house. Reporters called constantly: I was the only Bin Laden in Europe with a listed phone number. Friends called, their voices strained. Then they stopped calling. We were rapidly becoming personae non grata. The Bin Laden name frightened even the hardiest professionals. A new law firm refused to take my divorce case: I suddenly found myself without a lawyer.
Copyright © 2004 by Carmen Bin Ladin.
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