The mother of the former Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has spoken publicly about her son for the first time, describing him as a “very good child” who was radicalised while studying at university.
In an interview with British newspaper The Guardian, Alia Ghanem said her son had been a shy and good child growing up, but he “became a different man” while studying economics at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah.
“The people at university changed him,” Ms Ghanem told The Guardian.
While studying at the university, bin Laden met Abdullah Azzam, who was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Azzam was later exiled from Saudi Arabia and became Osama’s spiritual adviser.
“He was a very good child until he met some people who pretty much brainwashed him in his early 20s,” Ms Ghanem said.
“You can call it a cult. They got money for their cause.
— David Levene (@levenephoto) August 3, 2018
“I would always tell him to stay away from them, and he would never admit to me what he was doing, because he loved me so much.”
Ms Ghanem was interviewed along with bin Laden’s two half-brothers and the man who raised all three children, Mohammed al Attas.
In the interview, the family say they last saw bin Laden in 1999, two years before the September 11 attacks, when he was living in Afghanistan.
Bin Laden’s half-brother Sheikh Ahmad told the interviewer that Ms Ghanem was in “denial about Osama” and his role in the attack on the World Trade Centre in New York.
“She loved him so much and refuses to blame him. Instead, she blames those around him. She only knows the good boy side, the side we all saw. She never got to know the jihadist side,” Ahmad said.
He said he was shocked by the early reports of the terror attack on September 11.
“It was a very strange feeling. We knew from the beginning [that it was Osama], within the first 48 hours,” he said.
“From the youngest to the eldest, we all felt ashamed of him. We knew all of us were going to face horrible consequences. Our family abroad all came back to Saudi.”
After an almost 10-year search, bin Laden was killed during a late-night US Navy SEAL raid on a compound in Abbottabad, near the Pakistani capital Islamabad, on May 2, 2011.
In the interview Ms Ghanem made no expression of remorse for her son’s many victims.