obituary: Mr Osama Bin Laden
September 24, 2006
Mr Bin Laden, who died yesterday aged 49, was a successful businessman known for his work for various charities, and a popular figure in radical Islamic circles, as well as a devotee of cricket and the music of Van Halen.
Mr Bin Laden always showed a strong interest in politics and had considered making this his career but he became increasingly disenchanted with politics in his native Saudi Arabia and was a sometimes outspoken critic of US policy towards the Arab world.
Born in 1957 the seventeenth son among fifty brothers and sisters, his father, who was married 22 times, owned the biggest construction company in Saudi Arabia. Osama had a difficult childhood- he was often bullied by his elder brothers (he later developed an aversion to crowds) and his father was a strict disciplinarian. Young Osama’s happiest moments were when his father took him on trips to the sea-side.
a small selection of the Bin Laden children
Mr bin Laden attended schools in Jeddah and took a third class degree in public administration 1981 from King Abdul-Aziz university in Jeddah. He was described at the time as ‘non-confrontational, shy and studious’ but his marriage at the age of seventeen clearly adversely affected his studies. Osama developed a taste for travel and attended an English language school in Oxford, where he was a contemporary of Tony Blair, then an aspiring rock musician.
Mr Bin Laden (right) at Oxford with Tony Blair (centre)
Mr Bin Laden then traveled to Afghanistan where he started a popular guesthouse called the ‘Stars and Stripes B&B’. He was a keen camper and ornithologist and opened a number of camp sites in Afghanistan for like-minded people. Within two years he had built more than six camps and such was his success that he was able to open a resort and spa complex which he called Al-Qa’edah, an Arabic word meaning “The Base.” Tiring of the tourism industry, however, Mr bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia where he became unofficial adviser to the government and prominent in the opposition to Saddam Hussein. Disillusionment with politics, however, set in and he then devoted his time first to farming near Jeddah and then to starting a construction company in Sudan.
As canny as he was in busness, Mr Bin Laden proved unwise in his choice of female companions. After his first marriage failed, he married four other women, all university lecturers, who, friends suspect, were more interested in his money than him as a person, and who complained about his ‘austere’ lifestyle when he declined to buy them expensive presents from America. Mr Bin Laden retaliated that he only married them because they were “spinsters who were going to go without marrying in this world.” He is also believed to have had an affair with a minor Sudanese-American author who described Bin Laden as “obsessed with Whitney Houston, smoking lots of marijuana, and forcing her to dance naked to Van Halen.”
Finding the pressures of balancing his business with the demands of his lady friends excessive, Mr Bin Laden took early retirement and resumed his interest in overseas travel. He was, however, known as a home-loving man who, although left-handed, enjoyed DIY home improvement and cooking simple meals. In retirement he devoted much of his time to speleology and also spent a good deal of time reading. Bin Laden was described by his many friends as a soft-spoken, mild mannered man with a good deal of charm.
He leaves five wives and at least 24 children, one of whom runs his own firm, Fame Advertising, which has offices near a Starbucks in a two-story strip mall in Jeddah. Mr Bin Laden died previously in 2001, 2002 and 2004. His Who’s Who entry lists his recreations as ‘blowing up airliners’.