Bin Laden had unhappy childhood, says prince

Time of article published Oct 2, 2001

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Washington - Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born militant Washington says masterminded the devastating hijack attacks on the United States, had an unhappy childhood and "flipped" over religion, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States said on Monday.

Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who met Bin Laden in the mid-1980s, said the man who has prompted the largest US military buildup since the 1991 Gulf War was unprepossessing in person.

"I think he had an unhappy childhood," Bandar told NBC News. "I think he was a black sheep of the family in a way, and for a while we thought his religious leanings were a positive thing. It is just something flipped inside of him."

Bin Laden, the scion of a prominent Saudi family who later turned to Islamic extremism, has been identified by Washington as the chief suspect in the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington that left more than 5 700 dead or missing and presumed dead.

Bin Laden is currently believed to be sheltered in Afghanistan, where the ruling Taliban has defiantly rejected US demands it hand him over or face possible military assault by US forces already massed in the region.

Prince Bandar said he met Bin Laden in the 1980s when he was supporting Afghanistan in its war against the Soviet Union.

"He came to thank me for my efforts to bring the Americans, our friends, to help us against the atheist communists... Isn't it ironic?" he asked on CNN's Larry King Live.

The prince said he was not bowled over by a man who would one day become the world's most wanted fugitive.

"I was not impressed, to be honest with you," Prince Bandar said. "I think he was simple, and a very quiet guy. I don't think he has the capacity to do what he has done now. I think there are people around him who are the brains... I think he is the charismatic leader."

Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and a key ally in the US-led coalition against terrorism, has said publicly it would not allow foreign forces to launch attacks against Muslim Afghanistan from bases on its soil, although it did not rule out its air space being used for some other purpose in the campaign.

Prince Bandar said Riyadh had not been formally asked for permission to use the bases.

"What counts right now is two things: we are standing shoulder to shoulder. We see eye to eye (on) what needs to be done," he said. "We have not been asked to use Saudi air bases, therefore the question is moot." - Reuters

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