Osama also stayed in touch with his friends from the Saudi intelligence agency, even after Libya issued a warrant for his arrest, charging bin Laden with alleged involvement in the murder of two Germans -- an official working for Germany's Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and his wife. Prince Turki sent Osama's mother, Hamida, and his brother Bakr to the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, several times to convince Osama to abandon his terrorist activities. The visits were so frequent that Israel's intelligence agency, the Mossad, believed at the time that Osama was a Saudi spy. Washington increasingly came under pressure to do something about OBL, especially after his involvement in attacks in Somalia and Yemen. The US government met with Saudi officials behind the scenes, confronting them with satellite images of al-Qaida training camps in northern Sudan. In April 1994, King Fahd finally revoked Osama bin Laden's Saudi Arabian citizenship. The bin Laden family followed suit, issuing a sparse, two-sentence statement, signed by Bakr, disowning Osama.
Despite these actions, OBL was still far from being a "black sheep" with no ties to his native country. Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki visited bin Laden several times after he had moved from Sudan to Afghanistan to join forces with the radical Taliban. Turki allegedly brought along expensive gifts to Kandahar, in the form of dozens of pickup trucks. According to a former member of the Taliban intelligence service, Prince Turki and OBL made a deal: The Saudis would support al-Qaida financially, but only under the condition that there would be no attacks on Saudi soil. (Prince Turki, now Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Great Britain, has denied these claims, telling SPIEGEL that they are "nothing but fantasy.")
On Jan. 9, 2001, OBL attended his son Mohammed's wedding in Kandahar, accompanied, according to CIA sources, by his mother and two of his brothers. The CIA also claims that "two of Osama's sisters traveled to Abu Dhabi" a month later, where they met with an al-Qaida agent at the Gulf emirate's airport to deliver large sums of cash.
In mid-January 2005, New York federal judge Richard Casey wrote, in his grounds for allowing the civil suit against SBG filed by the families of 9/11 victims, that "the Saudi Binladin Group maintained close relationships with Osama bin Laden at certain times," and that it remains "unclear" whether these ties continued when OBL became involved in terrorism.
Can this global company, with its close ties to the Saudi royal family, truly be brought to trial, or will the US government, officially allied with Riyadh in its "war on terror," work behind the scenes to have the case dismissed? SBG has already demonstrated its willingness to work with the West by entering into joint ventures with Motorola and a deal with Disney, and has also been Porsche's official agent in the kingdom. Moreover, SBG is developing new airport security equipment in Saudi Arabia, as well as building housing for US managers working in the oil industry.
In Kazakhstan, the Saudi Binladin Group is helping build the country's new capital, Astana. In Syria, SBG and a Spanish company jointly operate the country's biggest olive oil processing plant. And in Dubai, the family company has just submitted a bid for a portion of the construction of what will be the world's tallest building. Next to aircraft, it seems, the bin Ladens see towers as a special challenge.
PARIS, AVENUE MONTAIGNE, NEAR THE CHAMPS-ELYSÉES AND THE LUXURY HOTEL "PLAZA ATHÉNÉE". A dinner appointment with Yeslam bin Laden at one the French capital's most expensive and exclusive restaurants.
He did not reserve a table. Was it because he doesn't like to identify himself as a bin Laden on the phone? "No no," says Osama's brother, "despite everything, I am proud of our family's name. But they know me here, so I don't need a reservation." Indeed, the staff, apparently accustomed to princely gratuities, practically bends over backward for bin Laden, a regular here, and seats us at the best table in the restaurant. Yeslam bin Laden, 55, orders a steak, medium rare. "Osama and I grew up very differently, and I never shared his system of beliefs," says Yeslam bin Laden.
When Yeslam was six, his mother sent him to a school in Beirut, because it was far more liberal there than in Saudi Arabia. He later attended schools and universities in Sweden and England. Although he spent his vacations at home, he saw his father "rarely," and his "half-brother Osama no more than three or four times, the last time in 1987 or thereabouts." He says that his only clear memory of Osama is of his strict condemnation of music, and his religious fanaticism, which struck Yeslam as odd. Yeslam himself believes religion is a personal matter, and he refuses to take responsibility for others. "Am I my brother's keeper?" he asks, calling himself an "enlightened Muslim," clearly alluding to the biblical story of Cain and Abel.
As a young man, Yeslam went to night clubs, drove a Porsche and earned his pilot's license. He studied business administration in Los Angeles. Photos from his college days show him with his Persian fiancée, a long-haired, happy hippy couple ensconced in the California lifestyle. He rarely received visitors from Saudi Arabia. One of these visitors was his devout brother Mahfus, who brought news of the bin Laden family, the Saudi royals and the Wahhabite clerics. But despite his worldly influences, Yeslam bin Laden retained his Saudi roots and insisted on a wedding in Jeddah. Against his wife Carmen's will, the women were fully veiled at the ceremony.
After living in the United States, Yeslam spent more than a decade and a half in Saudi Arabia -- from 1977 to 1984 -- where he was one of the leading executives in the family company in Jeddah. After a dispute with his brothers over SBG's finances, Yeslam went to Geneva, where he founded an investment company that specialized in managing large fortunes. There were soon rumors that Yeslam had reconciled with Bakr and was involved once again in business dealings with the bin Laden family. He dreamed of the birth of a son, and probably of rising to the top of SBG management in Jeddah.
When Yeslam's third daughter was born in April 1987 and he began spending long periods away from home, his marriage failed. According to his wife Yeslam, worried about his business, he became increasingly tense. Members of the Saudi royal family were now traveling to Geneva regularly and demanding his attention, especially the influential Prince Mishal. Yeslam bin Laden's divorce developed, as he himself says, into a bitter "War of the Roses." But in 2001, after years of troubles, he was finally successful on another front when he was granted Swiss citizenship. What is Yeslam's relationship with his brother Osama, who, as he claims, he last saw 18 years ago?
"9/11 was a tremendous shock for me," says Yeslam, now an upstanding citizen of Geneva who has also donated many thousands of dollars to the local film festival. "Osama had long since become a stranger to me, nothing but a name one reads in the newspaper," he says. "I felt that I was being held responsible for the crimes of a relative." The offices of his Geneva-based Saudi Investment Company (Sico) and his properties near Cannes were searched by the authorities, "just like that, on the strength of suspicion," he says. In early 2001, he registered the name "Bin Laden" as a trademark. He planned to establish a fashion house that would sell Bin Laden jeans but then, heeding the advice of friends, he abandoned the idea after 9/11: "After the incidents in New York, it would have been seen as a label in poor taste."
He developed a new business idea in the fall of 2004, a line of perfume. It's named "Yeslam," after its inventor and, according to its advertising, marries the scents of jasmine and lilies of the valley with an underlying note of sandalwood. In ads for the perfume, this combination of scents produces "a penetrating but gentle message for those who yearn for inner peace." The company plans to sell 60,000 bottles to its peace-loving customers.
Everything could work out for the best in Yeslam's world -- if only these new, hateful accusations would go away. A shadow lies over the man who tries to be pro-American and anti-Osama with every fiber of his being. In late December 2004, the French paper Le Monde reported that examining magistrate Renaud von Ruymbeke plans to investigate the bin Laden family's allegedly dubious financial dealings.
At the center of the investigation is an account that brothers Omar and Heidar bin Laden opened in 1990 with Swiss bank UBS with an initial deposit of $450,000. According to documents presented to the court, this account was still in existence in 1997, and only two people were authorized to conduct transactions: Yeslam and Osama bin Laden. The French court also intends to investigate information suggesting that €241 million were funneled from Switzerland to shadowy bank accounts in Pakistan through Akberali Moawalla, a former business partner of Sico and an acquaintance of Yeslam. Could all this have occurred with Yeslam's involvement or knowledge?
"I am not involved in money-laundering, and especially not with al-Qaida," says Yeslam bin Laden, his voice becoming slightly hoarse and edgy. He says that he never used the alleged UBS account and, probably for this reason, forgot about it. He takes pains to point out that he has not been charged with anything, neither by the New York court nor the French judge. He says that he is "innocent until proven guilty" -- another Western concept that this man living between cultures values, knowing full well that it carries no particular weight in his native country.
ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA, HOME OF THE AMERICAN CEMETERY FOR WAR HEROES AND "HARRY'S TAP ROOM". It's a relatively inconspicuous burger-and-seafood restaurant conveniently located halfway between the White House and CIA headquarters in nearby Langley, Virginia. We are here for a meeting with the CIA agent who hunted down Osama, tried to shed light on the bin Laden family's business dealings, and probably knows a great deal about the mysterious departure of more than a dozen bin Laden family members from the United States after 9/11. This is the man who published the bestseller "Imperial Hubris" last year under the nom de plume "Anonymous."
Anonymous now has a name and a face. His name is Mike Scheuer, and a gray beard partially covers his finely-chiseled academic face. He resigned from the CIA after 22 years of service, because he was no longer able to remain anonymous. Journalists were on the verge of uncovering his identity, and his book was facing harsh criticism from the White House. "That was when I did what had to be done," says Scheuer, 52, before taking a bite of his hamburger. He leaves his French fries untouched, glancing at his stomach. Being overweight isn't exactly part of the image someone wants to convey who, as a CIA field agent, helped arm the mujahedeen to fight the Russians in Afghanistan and who, in 1996, was placed in charge of "Alec," the top-secret unit authorized by former President Bill Clinton to hunt down bin Laden.
It was the first time an entire CIA station focused on a single man. Scheuer headed the special unit for three years until his superiors, angered by his complaints that the hunt for the world's top terrorist was being conducted half-heartedly, reassigned him for the first time. But he was brought back after Sept. 11, 2001, when it became clear that his bleak predictions had come true. But Scheuer's criticism of the Iraq war ultimately destroyed his good standing with the White House. "Bush strengthened the terrorists with his invasion, but it was a truth that they didn't want to hear."
Scheuer's axis of evil differs markedly from the president's. He believes that Pakistan and, even more so, Saudi Arabia are the epicenters of global violence. "Many Saudis support the terrorists in Iraq to this day - but we're the ones who are putting up the money -- by paying $50 for a barrel of oil and making ourselves dependent on oil imports."
Scheuer, an experienced intelligence expert, doubts that the entire bin Laden family has severed ties with Osama: "I haven't seen anything in the last 10 years that's convinced me that would be the case." In his view, SBG still derives some of its profits from business dealings in the Islamic world that can be linked to the family's supposed "black sheep." "He's treated as a hero almost everywhere over there," says Scheuer.
The CIA came close to capturing OBL several times. On one occasion, during the al-Qaida leadership's hasty retreat from the Afghan city of Kandahar in the fall of 2001, family passports were inadvertently left behind. Saad, a son of Osama bin Laden, was supposedly sent back to al-Qaida headquarters to make sure the documents wouldn't fall into the hands of the Americans. When he realized he had forgotten the combination for the safe, he used a cell phone to get the information, directly violating his father's strict instructions. Several different intelligence agencies picked up the call, but by then it was too late to act.
According to Scheuer, members of the bin Ladin family who were doing business in the United States or studying at US universities were almost completely inaccessible. "My counterparts at the FBI questioned one of the bin Ladens," the former CIA agent recalls. "But then the State Department received a complaint from a law firm, and there was a huge uproar. We were shocked to find out that the bin Ladens in the United States had diplomatic passports, and that we weren't allowed to talk to them."
Scheuer believes that these diplomatic privileges also helped the bin Ladens get out of the United States quickly after September 11, in a bizarre episode that has even been probed by the US Congress and an investigative commission.
Only two days after the attacks, when the US government had just reopened US air space, charter jets began taking off from various cities. Nine pilots flew 142 Saudi Arabians back to the kingdom. On Sept. 20, 2001, the "bin Laden jet" took off from St. Louis, making stops in Los Angeles, Orlando, Washington and Boston. At each stop, the plane picked up more half-brothers, nephews, nieces and cousins of public enemy number one. At that point, the FBI had already begun investigating two of the bin Ladens who were flown out of the country. They both lived in Falls Church, a suburb of Washington, and were officials in the "World Assembly of Muslim Youth."
Richard Clarke, for many years the chief of counterterrorism at the White House, has revealed that he was responsible for the flights. He says that he grantedhis approval after having been asked to handle the issue. And by whom? Perhaps by Bush's chief of staff, Andrew Card, after coordinating the plan with Saudi ambassador Prince Bandar, a close friend of the First Family? "I would be happy tell you, but I don't remember," Clarke told a Senate investigating panel -- few believe he was telling the truth.
Of course, former CIA agent Scheuer is well aware that the bin Ladens, as investors in and customers of the Carlyle Group, an investment company, had common business interests with the Bushs. In fact, until October 2003 George W.'s father and predecessor in the White House still worked as an "advisor" for Carlyle, which is also involved in the defense sector. Although Scheuer is no wild-eyed conspiracy theorist, he also believes that the US government was "unusually" accommodating to the bin Ladens. Does he regret leaving the CIA, and does he dream of returning? Scheuer, a father of four, says: "I liked my job. I wanted to protect the country against its enemies -- but not the president against his critics."
NEXT PAGE: "The Saudi Arabian Wahhabites are the luxury version of the Taliban"
GENEVA, IN THE FRENCH-SPEAKING PART OF SWITZERLAND, AT THE BAR IN THE FIVE-STAR HOTEL LA RÉSERVE. The bar offers an impressive view of the lake and its snow-covered banks. We have an appointment with Osama's sister-in-law, Carmen bin Laden.
She arrives precisely on time. "I hate unpunctuality," she says, dropping her fur onto the arm of her chair and, with an alert, almost furtive look in her eyes, and observing her surrounding, as if she were expecting trouble and had to keep her guard up. She is an attractive woman who seems to draw attention to herself, the type of woman who is eternally in her late 30s, perfectly put together, from her face to her figure to her wardrobe. But despite her appearance, she doesn't come across as a Chanel doll. And despite the willpower she must have needed in the past, especially during her seven years in Saudi Arabia, she also exudes a sense of fragility.
Her father was a wealthy Swiss businessman and her mother the child of an upper-class Iranian family, and Carmen never lacked anything money could buy. But her parents' marriage failed just as she was entering school and, like so many children of divorce, she felt responsible. What fascinated Carmen most about Yeslam bin Laden when she met him in her early 20s was his self-confidence, but his good looks and clearly unlimited financial resources were also a plus.
While she felt that her years studying in the United States were carefree, the years spent in Jeddah after her marriage to Yeslam were nothing short of martyrdom. Living in the family clan's environment, she was able to observe first-hand the oppression of women and the indoctrination of children. For Carmen, it was unbearable not to be allowed to drive a car, or to be required to obtain her husband's permission whenever she wanted to travel. "The Saudi Arabian Wahhabites are the luxury version of the Taliban," says Carmen bin Laden.
She rarely saw Osama. She noticed him because he turned away in horror when she opened the house door: "I was unveiled, and he was afraid of the sight." The family saw OBL as fanatically pious -- and he was also admired for the same reason. But Carmen thought he was odd. She says that Osama's young wife, Najwa, was not even permitted to give her baby a bottle when it was very hot, because the merciless father felt that the bottle's nipple was "haram" -- impure in a religious sense.
The outsider observed the trench warfare that was taking place for power within the family dynasty, a battle in which her husband, son number 10, soon moved to the top. "The daily realty within the family was jealousy, envy and intrigue," she says. "But the all-powerful Islamic traditions of Wahhabism ensure that no one is excluded from the clan. No individual destiny is more important than the shared system of values."
This is why Carmen bin Laden believes it is impossible that the brothers have severed all ties with Osama. "No matter what he has done, they cannot disown him -- it would be a violation of the Sharia laws." And because of the close relationships between the royal family and the construction company, Carmen also believes that there are still secret links among Osama, various princes in senior government positions and leading religious scholars.
Carmen had little difficulty separating from Yeslam. "He became more and more Saudi, more intolerant, especially when we left Jeddah in 1984 and began living in Switzerland." After publishing a critical book about her experiences two years ago, she no longer maintains any contact with Yeslam or anyone in the bin Laden clan. Now she is working on a second book -- using documents she says will shed light on the bin Ladin's financial dealings and dubious transactions in tax havens.
She has never considered dropping her married name. "It would have looked as though my daughters and I were plagued by a bad conscience," she says. Even after divorcing Yeslam, she continues to fight for an adequate financial arrangement, "for the daughters," she says. Carmen bin Laden is proud of the fact that her three daughters have stayed with her. The youngest, Nur, 18, still lives at home and goes to school in Geneva, where she is a year away from graduation. Nadja, 27, studies design at a university in Geneva. Waffa, 29, earned a law degree from Columbia University and commutes between New York and London.
"My uncle's terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001 was also directly against me personally," says Waffa. Although she was in Geneva at the time of the attacks, her New York apartment, where she spends most of her time, was only about a mile from the Twin Towers.
Waffa, born in Los Angeles, is an American citizen and a vocal champion of everything OBL detests: Western open-mindedness in matters of faith, music and fashion. British tabloids describe Waffa as an "erotic-exotic brunette" who has become a "fixture on the London club scene." There has also been talk of a potential career as a pop singer, after friends introduced Waffa to Nellee Hooper, who has produced Madonna's and Björk's albums. Waffa has already recorded demos of what insiders have dubbed catchy East-West ethno-pop.
But Waffa bin Laden does not feel drawn to the spotlight, at least as she claims. She is primarily interested in finding a job in a law firm. After all, she says, she does have a law degree. She is convinced that her lack of success on the job market is solely attributable to her family name: "After all, who wants Osama bin Laden's niece as their legal advisor?" Manager Simon Coldwell also believes that she should think carefully before embarking on a career as a pop star: "There is only one surname that's less well-suited to launching a pop career -- Hitler."
THE VILLAGE OF DIR ON THE SOUTHERN SLOPES OF THE HINDUKUSH MOUNTAINS, JUST BELOW THE LOWARI PASS. The village is little more than a wretched, dusty group of huts at the end of the world, in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province, a place shaped by "Pashtunwali," the code of honor of warlike tribes and Islamic loyalties. Tribal law offers unconditional protection for guests, even at the risk of one's own life, but also gives rise to gruesome blood feuds for perceived injustices and any form of insult.
Dir is famous throughout the region for its sharp knives and the Kalashnikov knockoffs that every young man older than 14 carries in the streets. It's also known for smuggling along dozens of hidden paths across the border into Afghanistan, only 40 kilometers away. Asmar, the Afghan village on the other side of the border, is the place where Osama bin Laden was last seen by credible witnesses -- well over a year ago (whereas his last taped message was recorded only five months ago).
The world's number one terrorist has moved on. Some intelligence experts believe he has gone north into the remote Wakhan region, with its jagged mountains and thousands of caves in which to hide. Others believe he is in the rugged mountainous Khost region south of here, on either side of the border town of Parachinar.
It seems difficult to believe that OBL can move around in this region entirely without the knowledge of Pakistani intelligence and military officials. American special forces are repeatedly seeing the same pattern: Whenever they believe they are close to bin Laden's followers in the border region, someone tips off the terrorists -- presumably high-ranking sympathizers within the ranks of Pakistani intelligence or military.
His mother Hamida's phone line in the Middle East is constantly monitored, on the off chance that Osama will call, enabling agents to track his whereabouts. The National Security Agency, America's enormous spy agency, obtained Osama's satellite telephone number in 1996, and its computers recorded every call made from Osama's number, 00873-682505331, but the number is long since defunct. Hundreds of calls were recorded, conversations with contacts in Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Pakistan. But no one spoke with Osama as frequently as his mother, Hamida. He apparently last spoke with Hamida in the spring of 2001, a few months before 9/11. In the very brief conversation Osama told his mother that he would not be able to call again for a long time, a remark that seemed cryptic to the agents listening in at the time, especially when Osama added that "great events are about to take place." At the time, US President George W. Bush was so convinced that this would be the way to catch the terrorist leader that he told the Emir of Qatar: "We know that he'll call his mother one day -- and then we'll get him."
Hamida herself has remained loyal to her son. "I disapprove of the ambitions the press ascribe to him," she said in 2003, "but I am satisfied with Osama, and I pray to God that He will guide him along the right path."
Said bin Laden, one of OBL's older sons and now on Washington's Top Twenty list of terrorists being sought worldwide, is also presumably under electronic surveillance. Two years ago, the Iranian authorities arrested Said as he was crossing the border from Afghanistan, and are apparently holding him, together with three other high-ranking members of al-Qaida, as a bargaining chip for negotiations with Washington.
Some American investigators believe that their best chances lie in keeping an eye on a village in Yemen's Hadramaut region, not far from the birthplace of the family patriarch, Mohammed bin Ladin. According to Western intelligence sources, a 20-year-old Yemeni woman and her child recently came to the village from Pakistan, and was taken in by her relatives. The two-year-old child is apparently another offspring of Osama bin Laden. If the information is correct, this would demonstrate that, even after 9/11, the world's most-wanted terrorist has not been leading the monastic life of a hermit.
A terrorist as a caring father of a family? As recently as 2000, OBL said the following to an interviewer: "I thank God that he has allowed my family to understand my path. They are praying for me."
He also values the blessing of his father, who he transformed posthumously into an Islamic fighter. "When he did some work in Jerusalem, he tried to have bulldozers converted into tanks so he could attack Israel -- he was disappointed when the plan failed."
Experts say that it would be a mistake to apply Western patterns of thought to Middle Eastern reasoning. According to the Wahhabite world view, those who declare war on the West and have killed Western civilians can still love their neighbors at home.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan