For years the whereabouts of his family were unknown, until headlines late last year suggested the family, minus Osama, had moved from Afghanistan to neighboring Iran. As Omar tells it, up to 40 members of the bin Laden family, wives and children, used fake identity documents to cross the border along with hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the U.S. invasion. They now live in a comfortable Tehran compound, but under house arrest.
"The Iranian government has showed very good caring to my brothers and sisters. The only mistake is that until now they haven't been released," said Omar, describing an upper crust lifestyle: swimming pool, tennis court, shopping trips, and horseback riding along the coast. The children have had no access to formal education, and every foot they set outside the home must be chaperoned by Iranian security forces.
In November, Omar's 17-year-old sister Imam escaped from Iranian custody and fled to the Saudi Embassy, where he says she is still living. Omar and Imam have spoken by phone, but Iran has so far refused to let her leave the country, and hasn't responded to requests from Omar and his mother to see her and verify her identity. Her lack of official identification documents is one reason Iran has said it won't give her an exit visa. One younger brother, Bakr bin Laden, was allowed to leave in December.
"[Iranian] President Ahmadinejad and his Minister of Foreign Affairs know they should do the right thing... they could release all of them if they wanted," said Omar. Most are being held against their will, though Omar's wife, Zaina Al Sabah, says seven or eight of them have said they want to stay in Iran.
Osama bin Laden raised his family of five wives (plus one marriage that was annulled) and more than a dozen children in a way meant to make them tough and ready for the rigors of war. He shunned air conditioning and refrigerators in the desert heat, banned toys and the kind of laughter that showed too many teeth, refused to wince when his men used Omar's puppies as the victims in chemical weapons tests. He would cane his children for the slightest misbehavior, at times hitting them so hard the stick would break.
"He didn't treat us differently than any of his followers. He just expected us to act like everyone else, because he was the leader," said Omar. He and his brothers were given weapons training. In a breaking point between them, Osama encouraged them to sign up for suicide missions, volunteering to blow themselves up.
"We were shocked. Why would our father say something like this to us? After he went away we just talked about it and said this was never going to happen, this was not our way." Omar found the rare and substantial nerve it took to talk back.
"I objected, and said why did you do this? What is the point? He didn't respond. We were not more important than his big goal...and nothing would stop him from this."
Today, Omar shrugs off the notion that his father had a cruel streak. He sees the spartan treatment as part of Osama's worldview. In his book "Growing Up Bin Laden," Omar notes the change in his father when he lands back in Afghanistan amid the violence of war and begins a rugged trip to a complex of barren caves in the Tora Bora mountains.