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September 30, 2001
Fearing Harm, bin Laden Kin Fled From U.S.
By PATRICK E. TYLER
WASHINGTON, Sept. 29 — In the first days
after the terror attacks on New York and Washington, Saudi Arabia
supervised the urgent evacuation of 24 members of Osama bin Laden's
extended family from the United States, fearing that they might be
subjected to violence.
In his first interview since the attacks,
Saudi Ambassador Bandar bin Sultan, also said that private planes
carrying the kingdom's deputy defense minister and the governor of Mecca,
both members of the royal family, were grounded and initially caught up
in the F.B.I. dragnet. Both planes, one jumbo jet carrying 100 family
members, and the other 40, were eventually allowed to leave when airports
reopened and passports were checked.
Mr. bin Laden is estranged from his family.
One of his two brothers in the United States called the Saudi Embassy
frantically looking for protection, the ambassador said. The brother was
sent to a room in the Watergate Hotel and told not to open the door.
Most of Mr. bin Laden's relatives were
attending high school and college. They are among the 4,000 Saudi
students in the United States. King Fahd, the ailing Saudi ruler, sent an
urgent message to his embassy here saying there were "bin Laden
children all over America" and ordered, "Take measures to
protect the innocents," the ambassador said.
The young members of the bin Laden clan
were driven or flown under F.B.I. supervision to a secret assembly point
in Texas and then to Washington from where they left the country on a
private charter plane when airports reopened three days after the attacks.
Many were terrified, fearing they could be "lynched," after
hearing news reports of sporadic violence against Muslims and Arab-Americans.
"It's a tragedy," said Prince
Bandar. "The elders" of the students "came to see me, and
one of them was a bright boy from Harvard who like the others had
absolutely nothing to do with this and yet we had to tell him to go home
and wait until the emotions calmed down. And he told me that he never
really appreciated why the Japanese wanted a memorial or an apology for
their treatment in World War II."
The student added, according to the prince,
"I understand now that when you are innocent, in the face of emotion
nothing, not even common sense, can help argue your case."
As thousands of Americans were recoiling
from the Sept. 11 terror attacks, Saudi Arabia's ambassador, a former
fighter pilot who is dean of the diplomatic corps here, faced another
kind of horror: America's staunchest ally in the Arab world was more
prominently associated than ever before with Mr. bin Laden. In addition,
a majority of the men who hijacked four airliners in the attacks carried
"This is the worst thing that has ever
happened to us," the prince told associates as the first images of
the collapsing towers in New York registered the magnitude of the crime.
This dark prediction may or may not prove
to be true. But Prince Bandar, who is enthusiastically pro- American,
kicked into high diplomatic gear this week with a series of public
appearances to bolster the image of Arab support for President Bush's
coalition against terrorism.
It is not going to be easy, he concedes, as
the Arab world is in a surly mood and the fight on terror has none of the
clarity that rolling back the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein of
Iraq had for many Arabs.
For this reason, Prince Bandar is also
pressing the Arab world's message on Washington: that if the United
States hopes to dry up the sources of terrorism in the region, it must
get more deeply involved in the Arab- Israeli peace process. He said this
would involve not only putting pressure on Israel, though increasingly he
feels that is essential, but also on the Palestinians and their leader,
"History will judge this coalition by
how well you channel the anger into a positive result rather than just
making it vengeance," he said.
Prince Bandar is also believed to be
sending the clear message that key air bases in Saudi Arabia are likely
to be available on a "don't ask, don't tell" basis, but he
insists that the Bush administration has made no requests and has not
laid out its plans. "The president said he is now in hot pursuit' of
bin Laden, but they do not need Saudi bases to launch special forces on
F-16's into Afghanistan," he said, adding "we have not been
asked, therefore there is no point in answering hypothetical
Surprisingly, Osama bin Laden was not a
stranger even to a royal family member like Prince Bandar. In the early
1980's, bin Laden came to greet the prince and thank him for helping to
build the coalition that fought against the Soviet occupation in
Afghanistan. Prince Bandar said that Saudi intelligence has constructed a
psychological profile of Mr. bin Laden that portrays him as a loner in a
large family. His mother, a Syrian, was set apart from other wives and
the whisper of scandal that surrounded her may have deeply affected Osama
Mr. bin Laden is one of 52 children of a Yemeni-born
migrant who made a vast fortune building roads and palaces in Saudi
Arabia. Many have been educated in the United States and the family has
donated millions of dollars to American universities.
Saudi Arabia revoked his citizenship in
1994 after he was caught smuggling weapons from Yemen. When the time
comes for the military campaign to root him out, Prince Bandar has told
the administration that the kingdom will play the role of loyal ally, but
the "diplomatic game," as the prince called it, is to focus the
Bush White House on how much preparation is required if it hopes to hold
the support on moderate Arab states.
In particular, the Saudi prince said, he
would like to see some American "anger" channeled at those who
have obstructed or filibustered the peace process on both sides.
He accused some Israelis of trying to
exploit the attacks on America as a means to discredit the Arab position.
"Don't tell me that blowing up innocent people's houses is a fight
against terrorism," the Prince said, referring to Israeli policies
to destroy the homes and property of Palestinians who carry out attacks.
The prince said that his government
condemns Palestinian suicide bombers, but said that attacks on Israeli
security forces are justified because these are "resisting
"When the peace process is moving,
people are willing to accept a lot," he said. "But when the
peace process is stalled and this is coupled with Israeli behavior that
is humiliating to Palestinians and people see this day in and day out
while America takes a standoffish attitude — all of this creates a harsh
reality on the streets.
"The answer is to get moving," he
said. "If the Arabs screw up, tell us. If Israel screws up, tell
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