The late Osama bin Laden is seen at a news conference in Khost, Afghanistan. File picture: Mazhar Ali Khan/AP

London - Alia Ghanem, the mother of deceased al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, has given her first interview to Western media, telling The Guardian newspaper that her eldest son was "brainwashed" into extremist ideology.

Speaking at her family's home in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Ghanem said bin Laden was a shy, academically capable boy who turned into a strong, pious figure while an economics student in Jeddah in his early 20s.

"The people at university changed him. He became a different man," she told the newspaper, which said bin Laden had met Abdullah Azzam, a Muslim Brotherhood member who became his spiritual adviser, at the university.

"He was a very good child until he met some people who pretty much brainwashed him in his early 20s," Ghanem said.

"You can call it a cult. They got money for their cause," she said. "I would always tell him to stay away from them, and he would never admit to me what he was doing, because he loved me so much."

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