Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

My son and Bin Laden | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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London, Asharq Al-Awsat – Maha el-Samnah, also known as Um Omar, is the mother of Guantanamo Bay detainee 766, Omar Ahmed Khadr, and a Canadian citizen of Egyptian descent who had close ties to the Bin Laden family for many years prior to the September 11 attacks. In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, el-Samnah revealed some of the details of the personal life of Al Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden during his time in Afghanistan. El-Samnah found herself within Bin Laden’s circle through her husband, Ahmed Said Khadr, who was accused of being a “senior associate” and financier of Al Qaeda, and who was killed in Waziristan in October 2004.

Maha el-Samnah told Asharq Al-Awsat that “we lived close to the Bin Laden family in a residential compound in the city of Jalalabad for a number of years before moving to the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood of Kabul, where many [foreign] embassies are situated. Following this we left the capital for the province of Logar just prior to the US aerial attacks [on Afghanistan] began in October 2001.”

El-Samnah told Asharq Al-Awsat that “austerity and asceticism are the other face of the Bin Laden family.” She also said that she was not surprised by the images that have been released by the US and the media of the Bin Laden residential compound in Abbottabad, which reveal that the Al Qaeda chief was living in relative austerity. However she stressed that she did not believe that Bin Laden had remained within this residential compound for 5 years without ever venturing outside, saying that in Afghanistan the Al Qaeda chief liked to travel and enjoy the hospitality of his companions and followers, and that he visited his aides as often as they visited him.

Maha el-Samnah is the mother of Omar Khadr, the youngest detainee in Guantanamo Bay; he was aged 15 in 2002 when he was captured by US troops in Afghanistan and is 24 years old today. He pled guilty to a number of charges including “murder in violation of the law of war” and “providing material support for terrorism.”

Omar Khadr’s older brother, Abdullah Khadr, also has ties to Al Qaeda, and is wanted by the US on charges of providing weapons to Al Qaeda to be used against US and coalition forces in Afghanistan. The Canadian citizen was arrested by the Canadian authorities where extraditions proceedings to the US were underway, however the Ontario Court of Appeals recently upheld a decision halting the extradition process, citing the extent of US human rights abuses tied to Abdullah Khadr’s previous capture in Pakistan.

Maha el-Samnah told Asharq Al-Awsat that “we lived in Jalalabad, as well as the capital Kabul, but there is a huge difference between the two cities. The weather in Jalalabad is warm, whilst Kabul is high above sea level and so the weather there is cool. As for the affluent suburb of Wazir Akbar Khan, she described this street as being “broad and lined by trees as if it was a street in a western capital, whilst the villas [there] were large and spacious.”

In contrast to this image, el-Samnah revealed that the Bin Laden family lived in a very simple neighborhood, without any splendor, in a home that was not too dissimilar to the austere Abbottabad residential compound. She revealed that Bin Laden would not allow his own children to live a privileged life, and that he wanted his own family and children to live the simple life being live by the families of his own men in Kabul and Jalalabad and Kandahar.

As for reports that Osama Bin Laden did not allow his family to use electricity, she said these are untrue, adding that the residential compound where Bin Laden and a number of those close to him – including her own family – lived in Jalalabad had its own private electric generators. She also revealed that Bin Laden’s wives utilized electrical washing machines.

El-Samnah also revealed that Bin Laden would not allow his children from purchasing any American goods, and that he described such goods as being “satanic.” She revealed that Bin Laden’s ban on American goods even extended to “ice cream.” El-Samnah added that “many Arab families who lived under his wing continue to follow this example.”

She also revealed that “this austere living was a source of dissatisfaction for the children, including my own children; however this kind of simple life was the norm for the Arab Afghan families in the country.” El-Samnah also revealed that she frequently visited Bin Laden’s wives, particularly as it was difficult for them to leave the residential compound. She described Bin Laden as being “like a magnet” with everybody being pulled towards him and listening and following his advice.

El-Samnah also told Asharq Al-Awsat that “he [Bin Laden] was dominant and influential in pushing the youngsters towards education and all kinds of sport, as well as learning to swim, and also particularly shooting guns and riding horses, according to the famous hadith of the prophet “teach your children swimming, archery, and horse riding.'” She added that although she had never personally met Bin Laden, it was clear that he was a “normal person” with a humanitarian spirit, although she did describe him as being “temperamental.” She said that all the people surrounding the Al Qaeda leader were prepared to die for him, and that Al Qaeda deputy leader Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri and Abu Hafs al-Masri [Mohamed Atef, the military chief of Al Qaeda], “had a special place in his [Bin Laden’s] heart.”

Maha el-Samnah also revealed that “my children befriended Bin Laden’s children, and in Jalalabad they studied [together], including subjects like sports, engineering, chemistry, physics, history, geography, as well as Islamic Sciences such as tawhid [monotheism], fiqh [jurisprudence], aqidah [theology], and Arabic language.” She added “[the children also studied] the poetry that Bin Laden loved and he would reward the children who recited [this] well.”

Maha el-Samnah’s husband was Ahmed Said Khadr, who had close ties to a number of militant and mujahedeen leaders, including Osama Bin Laden. He was accused of being a senior member of Al Qaeda, however el-Samnah stressed to Asharq Al-Awsat that her husband just worked in charity and that “he worked in charity since he came to Pakistan from Canada in the 1980s…he ran several relief organization to build schools and orphanages, and these had branches in Kabul, Jalalabad, Khost, and Logar.”

As for the Khadr family situation following the September 11 attacks, she told Asharq Al-Awsat that “the family situation has improved greatly and we thank God for Toronto, where my youngest daughter Mariam has obtained her Canadian passport, and I pray to God Almighty for the rest of my children…and that they receive their constitutional rights.”

As for her son Omar Khadr, who remains in Guantanamo Bay, she revealed that she is in contact with him, with the US military allowing Khadr a one-hour video-conference call his family once a month. Maha el-Samnah told Asharq Al-Awsat that “we eagerly await these calls, and all members of the family can’t wait to hear Omar’s voice and see him once every month; he speaks to us in Arabic about his situation, and his deportation to Canada where he will serve the remainder of his sentence.”

She revealed that her son Omar spends his time reading and memorizing the Quran, as well as drawing and painting. El-Samnah told Asharq Al-Awsat that her son had told her that the first thing that he will do following his release is to host an exhibition for his art. On October 21 2010, a judge sentenced Khadr to serve eight more years in custody, bound by a plea agreement that compelled him to ignore a military jury that had previously advised Khadr to serve 40 years in prison for war crimes including the killing of an American soldier.