Singer Sheds Bin Laden Name, Aims for Stardom

ByABC News

June 3, 2005 — -- Until recently, Wafah Dufour was known as Wafah bin Ladin, a monumental handicap for this aspiring singer.

Her lyrics are in English and the sentiments expressed are clearly Western. But this 25-year-old cosmopolitan woman is a product of several cultures.

Dufour's passport is American, her education European, her heritage Saudi Arabian. She is also the niece of Osama bin Laden. Dufour told Barbara Walters she has "never met him" but still can't escape the name.

"No, I can't. Unfortunately," said Dufour.

She has adopted her mother's maiden name, Dufour, and is now looking to develop a singing career after spending several years living in the United States.

A member of the huge bin Laden family, Dufour estimates she has 200 cousins.

Her father is Osama's half-brother and they are just two of the 54 children fathered by Mohammed bin Laden, whose construction companies have changed the face of the Middle East.

The shockwaves from 9/11 reverberated through the entire bin Laden family. Osama's youngest brother, Abdullah bin Ladin, previously spoke with "20/20," telling Walters he barely knew Osama and was living in Boston on Sept. 11, 2001. He returned to Saudi Arabia almost immediately, fearing harassment.

At the time, Wafah bin Ladin, as she was known then, had been living in New York and attending Columbia Law School. But on the day of the terror attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., she was visiting her mother in Switzerland and recalls hearing the news.

"They were starting to say bin Laden did this, bin Laden did that … and I was so numb because I couldn't even believe what was happening in New York," said Dufour. "It was my home."

She said she was both ashamed and concerned about what people would think of her family. "It's such a big family but in the United States or in Europe people don't really realize how big of a family it is, how many relatives there are."

Dufour became depressed and stayed in bed for six months after the attacks.

Dufour was born in California, where her father was going to school, but her parents moved back to Saudi Arabia when she was very young.

She went to elementary school in Jeddah and might well have grown up to be one of the heavily veiled women often seen on the streets there.

She went to an all-girls school and learned to memorize the Koran. While she was too young to wear a veil, she recalls seeing her mother draped in one. "When you're 10 years old or 8 years old you don't really think about 'am I going to have to wear the veil?'" said Dufour. "But I think that my mom was thinking 'oh my God, I don't want them to have to wear this. I don't want my daughters, my three daughters to have to wear a veil.'"

So when Dufour was 10, her mother left her father and moved to Switzerland, where she and her two younger sisters grew up in an atmosphere of privilege. Dufour later went to law school, first in Geneva and then in New York, but realized that law was not for her. She then took her mother's maiden name and decided to become a singer.

Some of her musical influences reflect her interest in the West -- she loves Jennifer Lopez, Madonna and more folk-oriented singers like Tracy Chapman.

As Dufour strives to find her own place in the music industry, she said she's not worrying about her heritage. "I think that in music, talent is the most, more important thing," said Dufour. "If I don't have talent, well, I'll never go anywhere."

For now she's supporting herself by teaching French lessons. Her father is a billionaire, but he stopped giving her money when she was 18.

As a Saudi who has adopted Western values, she is also trying to find a cultural place for herself. "It's hard for me to fit because I always feel like I'm not belonging really," said Dufour. "I can't be embraced somewhere."

Yet she is still grateful she was able to leave Saudi Arabia. "I am so lucky that my mom took us out and let us live the way we wanted to live," said Dufour. "When I think of these women and how they cannot decide anything and how they are stuck in their homes … it's … sad."

And that sentiment is not lost on her mother. Dufour said her mother is frightened that fundamentalists may question her daughter's lifestyle.

"But at the end of the day I can't hide," said Dufour." I can't live in fear of -- of doing what I want to do."

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events