The Newest Bin Laden Is a 51-Year-Old British Woman

Omar bin Laden's controversial marriage to older Briton gets U.K. press buzzing.

February 11, 2009, 2:28 AM

LONDON, July 12, 2007 — -- The already famously large extended family of Osama bin Laden has a new member: a 51-year-old English grandmother from the village of Moulton in Cheshire, England.

She is the new wife of bin Laden's fourth son, Omar bin Laden.

Former parish councillor Jane Felix-Browne met 27-year-old Omar on a visit to Egypt last year. Seven months later, the couple wed in Islamic ceremonies in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. It is his second marriage and her sixth.

On Wednesday, Felix-Browne, who also goes by the Muslim name Zaina Mohamad Al-Sabah, gave an interview to The Times of London in which she described her new husband as "pious, quiet, a true gentleman."

Public reaction to the couple in Britain has been skeptical, with many commenting on her decision to announce her marriage to a much younger man, especially one with such controversial antecedents.

Nodja Stone, a 55-year-old Londoner, scoffed at Felix-Browne's admission of love, saying to ABC News, "Do we have to listen to this publicity-seeking grandmother? I actually think she's doing all this to get publicity."

The U.K. papers have given her plenty of publicity, with the story making it to the front pages of both the Times and the Sun.

British columnist Zoe Williams told ABC News that the only reason "the papers have covered the story is because of its amusement value."

"Obviously the couple want us to believe that they are in love, but the newspapers are just having a laugh at this relationship, treating it like vaudeville," Williams said. "The age difference and the fact that it's her sixth marriage and his second; makes it all a bit comic."

Not everyone is amused, however.

Melanie Barker, a 45-year-old stay-at-home mom, told ABC News that she did not think it was wise for the British authorities to issue the younger bin Laden with a visa to visit the U.K.

Shaking her head vigorously, she said, "If she loves him that much, she can go to him. We have got enough problems over here as it is."

But, when asked about the couple's age difference, Barker stood up for older women, saying that the age gap "doesn't matter. Age is just a number."

That view is shared by psychotherapist Denise Knowles, who works for RELATE, Britain's largest relationship counseling charity.

Knowles told ABC News that "such relationships have always existed, but they are more prevalent now."

"Today," she said, "50-something women are not regarded as 'old hags.' They are independent, successful, and often don't look their age, thanks to exercise and their use of cosmetics."

"Furthermore," Knowles said, "women tend to live longer than men, and today's women are much more active than their male counterparts. They are not exactly sitting by a fire and knitting"

It's a sign of a shift in cultural norms. After all, even sexually active 40-something single women are making star turns on television, epitomized by "Sex and the City's" Samantha Jones, played by actress Kim Cattrall.

Coincidentally, as the series drew to a close, Jones -- a feisty, sexually liberated woman -- ended up finding love not with a man of her own age, but with a 20-something actor.

One can assume that the show's audience -- mostly female -- applauded her chutzpah, but what about the wider public?

According to Knowles, "People tend to fall into three different camps, when it comes to women dating younger men."

"The first camp," she explained, "is filled with those who will say, 'What is she trying to prove, she's old enough to be his mother!' The second will be made up of supportive people, who will appreciate her confidence. And then, there's the third lot, who will question the man's motives, and wonder if he's looking for a mother figure."

What drove Felix-Browne into Omar bin Laden's arms is anyone's guess, but she is only the latest in a long line of older women choosing to marry younger men.

In 1998, the U.K. Office for National Statistics released figures showing that 26 percent of all British women who tied the knot between 1963 and 1998 had chosen to do so with younger men. The percentage of women who married men more than six years their junior doubled from 3 percent to 7 percent.

In a sense, this is a story as old as time; even the prophet Mohammed married a woman, Khadija, who was 15 years older than he was and a successful businesswoman to boot. Khadija later became the first person to convert to Islam and was Mohammed's only wife until she died at the age of 64. He then married several more times.

So, can such relationships last, despite the age difference?

Knowles told ABC News that they can and often do work out in the long run, "but only if the couple is clear about their relationship."

"They need to be strong," she said, "because of the often negative response they invite from the rest of society. They need to work hard to make sure that such prejudices do not affect their relationship."

Furthermore, she said that "an understanding and supportive family is key to such relationships surviving, especially when the two parties make it public."

It's unclear just how much support the new Mr. and Mrs. bin Laden can expect from their family.

For one thing, father and son have not met since 2000, Felix-Browne told The Times.

More importantly, the groom's father; the most wanted terrorist in the world; presumably has more pressing concerns on his mind than welcoming his latest daughter-in-law to the family.

If they do meet, Felix-Browne told the Times that she plans to ask her father-in-law about Sept. 11 and find out if he was responsible.

But for now, her biggest worry is meeting her husband again, whose passport has been confiscated by Saudi authorities until further notice.

Edward Wrong and Christine Brouwer contributed to this story.

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