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CNN Live At Daybreak

Bin Laden Family Believes Osama Is Alive

Aired March 19, 2002 - 05:32   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: The United States government still doesn't know if Osama bin Laden is dead or alive. But his half brother says bin Laden is alive and well.

We get more on the alleged terrorist mastermind and his wealthy Saudi family from our own David Ensor.


DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Osama bin Laden's wealthy family, a powerful Saudi dynasty, officially cut him off and disinherited him years ago. But the ties of blood are not so easily severed. Sheikh Ahmad Mohammed, son of the same mother, grew up admiring his big brother Osama.

AHMAD MOHAMMED, BIN LADEN'S HALF BROTHER (through translator): He is my brother, I know him. I lived with him for years. I know how much he fears God.

ENSOR: Sheikh Ahmad told CNN's Rula Amin the family has its own information that Osama bin Laden is still alive, or was as of three weeks ago. He says he does not believe Osama could be behind the attacks of September 11th.

MOHAMMED (through translator): I can't say. The way I know him, no way. He wouldn't.

ENSOR: Of course, the way Sheikh Ahmad and his mother see Osama bin Laden is in stark contrast to the way most of the world does.

PETER BERGEN, AUTHOR, "HOLY WAR INC.": There's overwhelming evidence to show that bin Laden was behind the September 11th attacks. If his family chooses not to believe that, that's just how families operate.

ENSOR: Ahmad Mohammed and his mother last saw Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan at the wedding in January of 2001 of one of Osama's sons.

MOHAMMED (through translator): He loved his family and friends' gatherings. He especially adores his mother. First comes God and then his mother.

ENSOR: At the wedding, Sheikh Ahmad says his brother Osama told him that it was not true, as widely reported, that he had kidney disease, requiring kidney dialysis to live. The bin Laden family officially denounced Osama in the mid 90's, when he attacked the Saudi royal family for allying itself with the U.S. against Iraq. But none of his blood relatives have been on television with an interview until now. And Ahmad Mohammed knows him far better than most.

A look at the family tree helps explain why. The patriarch, Mohammed Bin Laden, had at least 11 wives; four at a time under Muslim law. But he kept divorcing and remarrying, fathering well over 50 children. Osama bin Laden's mother is Hamida Ganem (ph). Some know her as Alia. A Syrian, she is now married to a man named Mohammed al- Attas. First, Hamida had Mohammed Bin Laden's son, Osama, then she married al-Attas and they had four children, including Ahmad Mohammed. Osama and his four half siblings grew up together in their mother's house.

RULA AMIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Did you go to the movies?

MOHAMMED (through translator): When we were very young when we used to go to Beirut, Osama was 12. He used to take us to the movies, but then that was the end of it. Since he turned 14, he stopped going to the movies.

AMIN: What movies did you see?

MOHAMMED (through translator): Cowboy, karate movies.

ENSOR: At 14, Osama became too religious, his brother says, to go to movies anymore. Osama bin Laden has been quoted as saying his father never married his mother. In his words, that it was "not a Koranic union." Such temporary unions with concubines were common in those days for wealthy Saudis, say Syrian and Saudi observers.

ALI AL-AHMED, SAUDI INSTITUTE: She was not a wife. She was a not a wife. She was not married to father of Mohammed bin Laden.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But the father, nonetheless, accepted him as his son?

AL-AHMED: Yes - yes, he did accept him as a son.

ENSOR: Osama bin Laden was promised his share of his father's millions, but saw little of the patriarch, who died when he was 11 years old. As a result, his mother shaped him more than anyone.

DR. ADIL NAJAM, BOSTON UNIVERSITY: The mother was supposed to be more liberal than many of the other bin Laden wives. So it is surprising how he turned out.

MOHAMMED (through translator): It's my mother who is worried most, God be with her. She is the most worried about him. Twenty- four hours she is worried about him, concerned for him. She is the only one who is constantly thinking of him more than any of us.

AMIN: She watches the news?

MOHAMMED (through translator): She's an expert now, more than any media person. She watches all the news on all the different TV channels. We get her all the newspapers, the interviews. She's always discussing it.

ENSOR: The bin Ladens' $5 billion company was founded by Mohammed bin Laden, here with then Saudi King Faisal. He made a fortune expanding the grand mosques in Mecca and Medina and building roads and palaces for the Saudi royal family. The bin Laden Group, now headed by Bakr bin Laden on the right, has had partnerships with Motorola and General Electric. Family members own apartments in this upscale Boston building. They've given millions to Harvard University for a chair in Islamic studies.

When the planes hit the twin towers, it was also a disaster for the bin Ladens. Two dozen of them were living in the U.S., according to a family spokesman. For their own safety, the Saudi government quickly arranged for a charter jet, out of Boston's Logan Airport, to spirit them out of the country.

PRINCE BANDAR BIN SULTAN, SAUDI AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: His majesty felt it's not fair for those innocent people to be subjected to any harm. On the other hand, we understood the high emotions. So with coordination with the FBI, we got them all out.

ENSOR: Since then, the bin Laden family has agonized over whether or not to publicly denounce their brother's activities.

BERGEN: I think you just have to understand the nature of Saudi society. This is a very private family, it is a very closed society. Information is very hard to get hold of. And their natural tendency is basically to sort of stonewall.

NAJAM: Osama has actually attacked the single biggest asset that the family has. The single biggest asset of the family was, until now, their name, bin Laden. Because that was a name that would open doors. That was a name that spelled power. And, unfortunately, now that is a name that spells terror.

ENSOR: Though Ahmad Mohammed says he cannot believe his brother Osama committed the crimes of September 11th, he does want Americans to know he does not approve of him.

MAHAMMED (through translator): What happened was terrible. Any Muslim wouldn't accept this. In our religion, this is not permitted.

ENSOR (on camera): This interview, in which a brother speaks out for Osama bin Laden is not something, we are told, that the bin Laden family or company wanted to happen. And it may increase the pressure on a powerful dynasty to speak out against the terrorist in their midst.

David Ensor, CNN, Washington.