Jihadist leader. Born Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden on March 10, 1957, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to construction billionaire Mohammed Awad bin Laden and Mohammed’s 10th wife, Syrian-born Alia Ghanem. Osama was the seventh of 50 children born to Muhammad bin Laden, but the only child from his father’s marriage to Alia Ghanem.
Osama’s father started his professional life in the 1930s in relative poverty, working as a porter in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. During his time as a young laborer, Mohammed impressed the royal family with his work on their palaces, which he built at a much lower cost than any of his competitors could, and with a much greater attention to detail. By the 1960s, he had managed to land several large government contracts to build extensions on the Mecca, Medina and Al-Aqsa mosques. He became a highly influential figure in Jeddah; when the city fell on hard financial times, Mohammed used his wealth to pay all civil servants’ wages for the entire kingdom for a six-month period. As a result, Mohammed bin Laden became well respected in his community.
As a father, he was very strict, insisting that all his children live under one roof and observe a rigid religious and moral code. He dealt with his children, especially his sons, as if they were adults, and demanded they become confident and self-sufficient at an early age.
Osama, however, barely came to know his father before his parents divorced. After his family split, Osama’s mother took him to live with her new husband, Muhammad al-Attas. The couple had four children together, and Osama spent most of his childhood living with his step-siblings, and attending Al Thagher Model Schoolat the time the most prestigious high school in Jedda. His biological father would go on to marry two more times, until his death in a charter plane crash in September 1967.
At the age of 14, Osama was recognized as an outstanding, if somewhat shy, student at Al Thagher. As a result, he received a personal invitation to join a small Islamic study group with the promise of earning extra credit. Osama, along with the sons of several prominent Jedda families, were told the group would memorize the entire Koran, a prestigious accomplishment, by the time they graduated from the institution. But the group soon lost its original focus, and during this time Osama received the beginnings of an education in some of the principles of violent jihad.
The teacher who educated the children, influenced in part by a sect of Islam called The Brotherhood, began instructing his pupils in the importance of instituting a pure, Islamic law around the Arab world. Using parables with often-violent endings, their teacher explained that the most loyal observers of Islam would institute the holy wordeven if it meant supporting death and destruction. By the second year of their studies, Osama and his friends had openly adopted the attitude and styles of teen Islamic activists. They preached the importance of instituting a pure Islamic law at Al Thagher; grew untrimmed beards; and wore shorter pants and wrinkled shirts in imitation of the Prophet’s dress.