Bin Laden as Patriarch
By SCOTT SHANE
WASHINGTON ó When a man stalks the world as a mass killer, it distracts from the ordinary interest we might otherwise take in the mundane details of his life. And so it was with Osama bin Laden.
Times Topic: The Death of Osama bin Laden
But after he was cornered and killed on May 2 in an upstairs bedroom of his house in Pakistan, Bin Laden the terrorist and Bin Laden the family man came together. At home with him were three of his wives, the youngest of whom was shot in the leg; a son, who was killed; a daughter, who witnessed her fatherís death; and other children, some of whom may be Bin Ladenís.
Now there is official interest in the wives as intelligence sources. They were questioned at length by the Pakistanis and subsequently by the Americans, though Bin Laden is not believed to have shared much of his business with the women in his life.
But apart from anything Bin Ladenís wives may have to say that might be useful to intelligence officers about his associates and their whereabouts, there is also a powerful natural curiosity about the women and their children: What was it like to live with the founder of Al Qaeda, to call him husband or father? As with Hitler or Pol Pot, you want to understand whether his bizarre combination of grandiosity and viciousness carried over to domestic life ó in Bin Ladenís case, whether he perhaps was an eerily ordinary parent, complaining about what was for dinner, nagging the kids about their homework.
That was why the video of Bin Laden watching himself on TV was so riveting. He was anything but intimidating, sitting with remote control in hand to fast-forward, rather than to set off an explosion, with a shawl draped around him and his beard undyed. He was cut down to size, which was exactly why American officials rushed to make the home movies public.
But that was just a glimpse. The most vivid look the American public has had at Bin Ladenís family life is from a 2009 memoir by his son Omar bin Laden and Omarís mother, Najwa bin Laden. They wrote ďGrowing Up bin LadenĒ with the assistance of Jean Sasson, an American writer. The book includes what may be the most complete account available of the terroristís immediate family. Ms. Sasson counts five wives, plus a sixth whose marriage to Osama bin Laden was mysteriously annulled within a day; at least 11 sons, two now dead; at least nine daughters. There may be more children, born after Najwa bin Laden left her husband. That was shortly before he engineered the Sept. 11 attacks and changed the world.
Here, based on the book, is the family tree of a terrorist.