Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

The Woman Who Said No to the Bin Ladens

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

The Woman Who Said No to the Bin Ladens

Article excerpt

Byline: By Lindesay Irvine

Life hasn't been easy for Osama Bin Laden's sister-in-law, as she explained to Lindesay Irvine

Carmen Bin Ladin ( shy, intense and smoking a succession of nervy cigarettes ( declares: "I'm a very private person."

Having Press attention trained on her and her three daughters is something the elegant Swiss-Persian woman in her 40s plainly doesn't relish. But she hasn't had much choice in the matter.

On September 11, 2001, Carmen was in Geneva with daughters Wafah, Najiah and Noor when she heard about the terror attacks. Like everyone, she was stunned by the tragedy.

But Carmen felt additional revulsion because she immediately suspected that her brother-in-law was involved.

She had had nothing to do with the huge Bin Laden family since becoming estranged from her husband Yeslam in the late 1980s.

Indeed, the medieval ideology of Osama Bin Laden had come to "exemplify everything that repelled me about Saudi Arabia", she says.

But in the hysteria which followed 9/11, the name alone was enough to link her to him in the public mind. The `i' she uses to spell Bin Ladin might have offered a clue that she was no ally of Osama's, but as the only member of the family in the European phone book, she and her daughters became the focus of huge media attention.

"It was very difficult for my family to carry the Bin Laden name," she says. "There was an article about my eldest daughter, Wafah, who was studying law in New York and lived close to the Twin Towers, stating that she had been tipped off and flew out to Switzerland days before the attacks."

In fact, she had been with her mother since the beginning of the summer, but the report was widely circulated and the prejudice stuck.

In Geneva, Carmen was experiencing similar problems. Friends urged her to change her name, but she decided it would look worse if it was revealed she was "hiding" the connection.

"So I decided that I had to explain to our world, the free world, where we stand, the four Western Bin Ladins." After issuing a statement condemning Osama and the attacks, she started writing an account of her life in the powerful Saudi family.

Partly, this was to dissociate herself and her daughters from their notorious relation. But she also wanted to explain to her children how she had first come to marry into Saudi Arabia, and why she has struggled so long and hard to leave it.

"For the last 14 years, they have paid a very high price. When you see your father in the street and he doesn't say hello to you, you don't understand. They would ask me why? And I always told them, `One day I will write you a book to explain to you why I felt it would be better for you not to grow up in Saudi Arabia'."

The result, The Veiled Kingdom, opens a rare window on to a country which likes to keep itself to itself where the West is concerned, and insists that its women are neither seen nor heard. …

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