Growing Up Bin Laden: Osama's Son Speaks

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For Omar Bin Laden, the fourth eldest of Osama bin Laden's 20 known children, the awful realization that his own father was a terrorist mastermind plotting a global conspiracy that would destroy the lives of thousands of innocent people and even his own family came gradually. Of course, there were warning signs: Omar's childhood was marked by regular beatings and survivalist training; there was the growing army of ruffians and retainers who called his father "Prince"; and then there was that Afghan mullah who had given his father an entire mountain in Tora Bora.

But as he recounts in a book co-written with his mother, Omar — now 28 years old — found it hard to give up hope that a man who had killed so many people might one day turn his back on violence and become a normal father. The younger bin Laden fled Afghanistan only when it become clear that Osama was planning a massive attack on the United States; but he still couldn't accept that his father was responsible for 9/11 until months later when he heard the familiar voice on audiotape claiming credit for the attacks. "That was the moment to set aside the dream I had indulged, feverishly hoping the world was wrong and it was not my father who brought about that horrible day," he writes. "This knowledge drives me into the blackest hole."

As the first book written about Osama bin Laden with help from anyone in the bin Laden family, Growing Up bin Laden: Osama's Wife and Son Take Us Inside Their Secret World (St. Martin's Press) is a valuable — if limited — glimpse into the personal life of the world's most wanted man. In recollections from Omar and his mother, Najwa bin Laden (the first of Osama's five known wives), and with the assistance of American author Jean Sasson, the book paints a picture of Osama as a towering figure whose noble demeanor inspired fierce loyalty, but also an absolute authoritarian who wanted as many wives and children as possible in order to have foot soldiers for Islamic jihad. "My sons, your limbs must react to my thinking as though my brain was in your head," he told his children when they complained about their life in al-Qaeda camps.

However, Osama the father remains almost as elusive to his son (and the reader) as he is to the FBI — too consumed by jihad to care much for his children, too distant to seem like a full person. But Omar's memoir itself — which forms the core of the book — presents a strange and fascinating coming-of-age-story about a young boy groomed by his father to take over a worldwide terrorist enterprise who chooses instead to get a job, start a family, and play with animals. If the book suffers somewhat from the limitations of translation and overly formal prose, the thrill of being a fly on the wall of the bin Laden family drama quickly takes over...

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