| September 30, 2001|
Fearing Harm, bin Laden Kin Fled From U.S.
By PATRICK E. TYLER
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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 intially 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
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
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 Saudi passports.
"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, Yasir Arafat.
judge this coalition by how well you channel the anger into a positive
result rather than just making it vengeance," he said.
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
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 bin Laden.
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
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
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 occupation."
"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 it."