Exclusive: Osama Bin Laden's Son Warns His Successors Will Be Worse

Omar bin Laden says the U.S. will never catch his father.

February 10, 2010, 8:15 AM

DUBAI Feb. 11, 2010— -- Osama bin Laden's son has a chilling warning for those who are hunting his father with drones, secret agents and missile strikes.

From Omar bin Laden's up-close look at the next generation of mujahideen and al Qaeda training camps he says the worst may lie ahead, that if his father is killed America may face a broader and more violent enemy, with nothing to keep them in check.

"From what I knew of my father and the people around him I believe he is the most kind among them, because some are much, much worse," Omar bin Laden, who was raised in the midst of his father's fighters, told ABC News in an exclusive interview. "Their mentality wants to make more violence, to create more problems."

Omar has turned his back on his father's philosophy, a remarkable step for a man in an Arab culture where it is a sin to disobey his father and taboo to openly criticize him. It was doubly significant for Omar bin Laden because his father had picked him to succeed him as the leader of jihad.

The son spoke out again recently after hearing his father in an audio tape praise the attempt by the so-called "underwear bomber" to blow up a jetliner over Detroit on Christmas Day.

"Attacking peaceful people is not being fair, it is unacceptable. If you have a problem with armies or governments you should fight those people. This is what I find unacceptable in my father's way," Omar told ABC News.

"My father should find some letter to send to all of these people, at least to tell them they shouldn't attack the civilians," he said.

Omar is a clearly conflicted peacenik, bearing some signs of a loyal son and trying to explain his father's hatred. When asked whether there is anything his father likes about the United States, Omar says "their weapons," and nothing else.

The son of Osama, however, had praise for the U.S. saying, "They don't care what is your race, what is your skin, where you come from, this is very good."

And despite the $25 million bounty on his father's head and the ever-searching drones, Omar is confident that his father won't be caught and that no Afghan will turn him in.

"It's been 30 years now since he started fighting there. Who could catch him? No one.... This is the country that whoever gets in is stuck, be it the armies or the mujahideen," he said.

Omar says even he does not know where his father is.

Osama Bin Laden's Sons Are 'Peaceful'

Although polls like the Pew Attitudes survey show steadily declining support for bin Laden in the Arab and Muslim world, Omar says he still hears vocal, if subtle endorsements.

"Nobody dares to say, 'I follow your father' in public. But I find it very often and everywhere, people say 'We like your father. Your father is a hero.'"

What's not clear is whether Osama bin Laden's children follow him. Despite reports that some of Omar's brothers fought and died in Afghanistan, Omar says the sons of Osama are "peaceful," with no interest in their father's war.

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.

Osama Bin Laden Urged His Sons to Be Suicide Bombers

"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.

"I looked at my father. He did not seem to mind the trying conditions, but seemed exhilarated by them," Omar wrote. He added with a grudging admiration, "No matter what, my father was a tough man."

In Omar's book, his father is infuriated with the presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia, arriving to protect against an attack by Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War. (Omar says his father disliked the secular Saddam, and that there was "no contact, no connection" between the men.)

In August 1996 Bin Laden declared war on America from his Afghan cave, citing the fact that U.S. forces were still in the Persian Gulf.

His father's pitch to the incoming mujahideen was different, focused on Arab discontent over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an issue with broader appeal. They came in droves, a new generation of men seeking jihad, or holy war, against the infidels of the West.

Omar describes how during meetings of mujahideen in Kandahar, leaders would play videos of perceived Israeli atrocities, the demolition of homes and the killing of civilians. Men would leave the meeting raging to fight. Between Israel and America, Osama saw America as an easier target.

"He thinks America is weaker than Israel. America is easier to get attacked, with its huge cities," Omar said. "He sees America is the main power, but in fact is weak in certain ways."

Omar believes most Al Qaeda fighters can be turned, and that efforts like terrorist rehabilitation programs in Saudi Arabia do work. The problem, as he sees it, is that their home countries are reluctant to take them back.

"The jihadis, as I know them, want to return to their country and they're afraid because they know they are going to be killed or poisoned or imprisoned, so they stay with my father," he said.

When Omar broke with his father and left Afghanistan before the Sept. 11 attacks, he sought to reclaim a life he never had. His family is trying to get access their inherited Bin Laden wealth, but Omar says the money is "stuck," held by governments in Sudan and Saudi Arabia.

Omar says his dream in life is to reunite his family and succeed as a businessman. Being the son of Osama has made both a challenge, and left him expressing a deep discomfort.

"I am a peaceful man, but I don't have peace," he said.

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