What happened to Osama bin Laden's family after 9/11

The bin Laden clan has been called the Kennedy family of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. But while the most well-known Kennedy was the victim of an unforgettable tragedy, the most well-known bin Laden was the cause of one. On September 11, 2001, Osama bin Laden made the world a worse place. Aided by a ring of hijackers, he turned commercial airplanes into missiles that murdered nearly 3,000 people and obliterated the World Trade Center and part of the Pentagon. The controversial invasion of Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, and the formation of the terrorist group ISIS all partly or entirely resulted from that atrocity.

The bin Laden name will probably always be first and foremost associated with the maniacal firebrand who tried to burn the West to ashes. But Osama had a gargantuan family that included more than 50 siblings, five wives, and roughly two dozen biological children who all had to cope with their connection to him. It would take a huge library of biographies to cover everyone. However, for reasons explored below, certain individuals and events stand out. Here's what happened to Osama bin Laden's relatives after 9/11.

An uncanny family history of plane crashes

The bin Laden family has been haunted by a string of fatal plane crashes that started with Osama's father Mohammed. A construction tycoon who sired 52 children, Mohammed bin Laden perished in 1967 when Osama was around 10 years old. Per ABC his plane crashed in Asir, Saudi Arabia, because of an apparent error by an American pilot who served in the U.S. Air Force.

After Mohammed died, Osama's brother Salem became the family patriarch and a father figure to Osama. But in 1988 Salem died after his plane collided with power lines in Texas. That same year, Osama founded al-Qaeda. Did the man behind 9/11 blame America for the deaths of his two father figures? It seems significant that the son of a construction magnate killed in a September plane crash arranged for planes to smash into iconic buildings like the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on a September day. He even recruited five hijackers from Asir, where his father crashed.

In 2015 a jet carrying Osama's stepmother, sister, and brother-in-law exploded in the U.K. Despite trying to land "in near perfect conditions," the reportedly "overwhelmed" pilot flew far faster than recommended and missed the runway. Weirdly, the plane had the same tail-fin number as the aircraft that doomed Osama's dad. Weirder still, the relatives were returning from a wedding (Osama's father died heading to his own 23rd wedding), and the pilot's surname was Salem. These are probably all coincidences, but that doesn't make them any less weird.

The son who said no to terrorism

Omar bin Laden (above) got a front-row seat to his father's depravity. Osama basically tortured Omar's puppies to death by testing chemical weapons on them. Loath to denounce his dog-murdering father, Omar told Rolling Stone, "To this day, we don't know who gave the order. Better they have my dogs than someone else's." However, he didn't hide his disdain for Osama's second-in-command Ayman Muhammad al-Zawahri. Zawahri shot Omar's best friend in the head for being raped by a gang of men because in his unhinged mind the assault meant Omar's friend was gay and deserved to die.

When Omar reached his teenage years he became defiant, earning him the nickname "Alfarook," the Arabic word for "sword." Osama saw him as more of a bomb and encouraged him to undergo suicide bomber training. Ultimately, he wanted Omar to replace him as al-Qaeda's leader. To test his son's toughness Osama sent him to fight alongside Taliban combatants in Afghanistan for 40 days and nights. Omar couldn't stomach it and quit after about a month.

When Omar told his father he was leaving for good in April 2001, Osama reluctantly gave him $10,000 and sent him on his way. Omar later described his insane upbringing in a book he co-wrote with his mother. A metals trader by profession, he has publicly stated that he wants to be a "peace ambassador."

His 'favorite' son married the chief 9/11 hijacker's daughter

In December 2001 Osama bin Laden reportedly drafted a will in which he lamented neglecting his (approximately) 24 children: "You, my children, I apologize for giving you so little of my time because I responded to the need for Jihad." Furthermore, he urged them not to follow in his footsteps. Whether his remorse was fleeting or a permanent change, in that moment he seemingly abandoned his plan to raise a terrorist heir. Unfortunately, Hamza bin Laden (above) insisted.

Presumed to be Osama's favorite son, Hamza all but vanished after 9/11. He lived under house arrest in Iran, according to the Brookings Institution, but later joined Osama in Pakistan. He was at the Abbottabad compound when Seal Team Six took out his father but managed to elude capture.

In 2017 Hamza resurfaced with a vengeance. In an audio recording released by al-Qaeda he called for "Muslims generally to take revenge on the Americans, the murderers of the Sheikh [bin Laden], specifically from those who participated in this heinous crime." Hell-bent on becoming the Big Bad of terrorism, Hamza reportedly married the daughter of Mohammed Atta, the highest-ranking hijacker during the 9/11 terror attacks. His youth, oratorical skill, and connection to Osama make him a strong recruitment tool for al-Qaeda and "a dangerous enemy."

His first wife walked away

Osama bin Laden had five wives. The first was his first cousin Najwa Ghanem. Najwa knew him long before he was obsessed with toppling the West. She remembered him as being "very quiet and gentle in his manners" as a boy. The two married as teens, and Najwa bore 11 of his children. She also arranged Osama's marriage to his third wife.

Loyal and submissive for 26 years, Najwa finally reached her breaking point in 2001. As the Guardian explained, she hadn't planned on being the wife of a psychotic jihadist. She grew up at a seaside resort and enjoyed exposing her hair and ankles. She loved school and relished learning about the outside world. And when she married Osama in 1974, he was known as "a demon soccer player," not the incarnation of Satan he would later become. However, as he spiraled into extremism, Najwa found herself persistently pregnant and decreasingly happy.

In the months leading up to 9/11 her son Omar resolved to break free from his death-mongering father and begged Najwa to leave with him. Initially she refused, but shortly before September 11 she left with her two youngest kids and an adult son with disabilities. Osama's fanaticism and the addition of a fifth wife had proven to be too much. After reuniting with Omar, Najwa collaborated with him on a book about their experiences.

His last wife took a bullet for him

The fifth and final wife of Osama bin Laden, Amal al-Sadeh was literally given to him as a gift from her family in 2000. His youngest and allegedly favorite spouse, Amal was ready to die in a blaze of infamy for her husband as a teenager. According to the Guardian, in September 2001 Osama ordered his wives to blow themselves up if things got dire while he was away. By that point his first wife had wisely left him, and his second wife had already divorced him because of marital turmoil. In late 2001 his third wife absconded to Iran and his fourth wife hid in Pakistan.

Amal, however, stuck to Osama like crazy glue for most or all of his time on the lam. Writings attributed to her provided clues about married life with her jihadi hubby. She described Osama as dour and distant, often making her feel lonely while right beside him. For years Amal lived in lawless seclusion with Osama and a bunch of kids and grandkids in Pakistan. They were joined by Osama's other two spouses, who resented the much younger Amal and accused her of disloyalty. However, when Navy Seals stormed the compound, it was Amal who got shot in the leg trying to shield Osama. Nevertheless, when the wives were tried for unlawfully entering Pakistan, the older two alleged that Amal "tipped off the Americans" about their whereabouts. All three women were deported to Saudi Arabia.

His legal eagle niece pursued music and modeling

GQ described Wafah Dufour (above) as a "sexy Osama," which might just be the most insulting compliment ever given. Besides a slight physical resemblance, she is nothing like her notorious uncle. Born in California, Wafah was the daughter of Carmen Dufour, a strong-willed woman who married Osama's domineering half-brother Yeslam. Carmen came to realize that staying in Saudi Arabia would confine her daughters to having their thoughts spoon-fed to them and eventually living under the thumb of a crusty old husband, so she escaped the country with Wafah and her other daughter.

Wafah lived less than a mile from the World Trade Center in September 2001, but she was visiting her mom in Switzerland when the Twin Towers fell. As Wafah described, "I was freaking out, crying hysterically, watching this in horror." A day later she got another kick in the gut: Osama was responsible. Because of him she changed her last name to Dufour, her mother's maiden name. Emotionally broken by her uncle's actions, she lived with her mother for six months and underwent therapy.

Wafah has a master's degree in law but dreamed of being a singer. She returned to New York in 2004 to launch a music career. Since then, she started recording an album and performed in London but never quite escaped her uncle Osama's shadow. In 2006 she landed a reality show deal that apparently got nixed. She has also done modeling, proving she's both a better person than her uncle and better looking.

The son-in-law who broke the law

Not long after 9/11 Osama bin Laden got in front of a camera to brag about committing mass murder. Next to him was the world's evilest lap dog, his son-in-law Sulaiman Abu Ghaith (above). Sulaiman wasn't just a card-carrying terrorist; he was the mouthpiece for al-Qaeda, according to NPR. So after Osama said his piece Sulaiman played the part of dutiful cheerleader. Realizing law enforcement would want a piece of his keister, Sulaiman hightailed it to Iran.

Sulaiman laid low until 2013 when he tried to travel to Turkey with a bogus passport. His goose was as good as cooked when Turkish officials caught him and shipped him to his native Kuwait, where U.S. authorities caught wind of his whereabouts and hauled him to New York. Under normal circumstances an al-Qaeda operative would have stood trial at Guantanamo Bay, but poetic justice demanded better. In a departure from protocol Sulaiman was tried in New York City, just blocks away from where the World Trade Center fell. He was sentenced to life in prison.

The brother who was imprisoned by a prince

In 2001 Osama's older brother Bakr bin Laden sat at the helm of the construction empire their father built. According to Reuters, under his leadership the Saudi Binladen Group preserved its spot as the Saudi royal family's favorite building contractor despite the name "bin Laden" becoming synonymous with destroying buildings. However, in 2015 King Abdullah died, upending that long-standing dynamic.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman (above), or MbS, ascended to power and staged what looks like an economic coup. If his name sounds familiar, it's because MbS was convincingly implicated in the brutal slaying of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. However, in 2015 he seemed firmly against killing people, at least accidentally. So when a construction crane owned by the Saudi Binladin Group collapsed at a mosque in Mecca and killed 107 people, MbS banned the company's executives from going abroad and put their construction projects on hold.

In 2017 Bakr and about 200 other Saudi elites were arrested for supposed financial shenanigans. Dozens of his relatives saw their bank accounts frozen and were forbidden from leaving the country. Bakr remained incarcerated for over 10 months and was released after the Saudi government effectively took ownership of the bin Laden family business. Similar deals led to the release of other accused wrongdoers. Business Insider suggested that the arrests were a veiled power grab by MbS.

Some bin Ladens were arrested in Iran

The most hunted terrorist in the world managed to evade capture for years on end, but the same can't be said for much of his family. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks a gaggle of bin Ladens illegally entered Iran and were placed under house arrest. Requests to send them to Saudi Arabia were quickly shot down. The nations have an antagonistic relationship, and Iran had no interest in changing that, per ABC.

Although there's no place like home, house arrest was pretty darn cozy for the bin Ladens. They enjoyed shopping trips, swimming pools, and computers. But even comfy incarceration became unbearable for Osama's daughter Iman. In 2010 she escaped during a shopping excursion and stayed in a Saudi embassy for 112 days. She was ultimately allowed to move to Syria to live with her mother.

The bin Laden family's presence in Iran added gasoline to the diplomatic dumpster fire that defines its relationship with America. Some evidence suggests Iran's government had aided al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. The country also harbored Osama's son Hamza, who took up the terrorist mantle. The U.S. cited those no-nos as reasons to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal.

The White House greenlit a secret evacuation

In the days following 9/11 the last place most people wanted to be was on an airplane. But the bin Ladens living in the U.S. couldn't get into the air fast enough. Though Osama had been a pariah to most of his relatives since the 1990s, they were terrified of being labeled terrorists. CBS reported that "one of his brothers frantically called the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Washington looking for protection" and eventually holed up in the Watergate hotel. Many of the bin Ladens living in America were high school students who feared being murdered by a mob.

As with any filthy-rich family, they had friends in high places. In fact, the highest office in the United States signed off on a mass evacuation of Saudi nationals. As the Harvard International Review detailed, between September 13 and 24 the White House authorized 50 flights from 20 cities to take 160 Saudis, including about two dozen bin Ladens, back to Saudi Arabia. The FBI was jarringly lax about the whole thing and didn't bother to vet the evacuees for possible ties to 9/11, even though a lot of them were related to the guy who planned it. The flights came to light in 2003, much to the George W. Bush administration's dismay. Filmmaker Michael Moore hammered the president for okaying the evacuations in the incendiary documentary Fahrenheit 9/11.

Osama's mama blamed brainwashing

Much of the world remembers Osama bin Laden as the monstrous demagogue who masterminded a massacre in the name of his deranged ideology. But his mother, Alia Ghanem, knew him as an adoring, morally upright son who was led astray by extremists. During a 2018 interview at her Saudi Arabian mansion, Alia shared her perspective: "He was a very good child until he met some people who pretty much brainwashed him in his early 20s. You can call it a cult." That cult was the Muslim Brotherhood, which Osama encountered while attending King Abdulaziz University. "I would always tell him to stay away from them," she recalled, "and he would never admit to me what he was doing because he loved me so much."

Osama's brother, Hassan, who lives with Alia, also attempted to reconcile conflicting emotions: "I am very proud of him in the sense that he was my oldest brother. He taught me a lot. But I don't think I'm very proud of him as a man." His brother Ahmad, however, seemed less ambivalent: "From the youngest to the eldest, we all felt ashamed of him." Maybe shame drives Osama's mother to make excuses for him, or maybe love is at its blindest when it conflicts with your morals.

The CIA tried to get their DNA

9/11 literally made people sick. As PBS pointed out, since 2011 at least 1,744 people, most of them first responders, have died from diseases related to the attacks. And in a bizarre, somewhat convoluted way, 9/11 also helped fuel an anti-vaxxer movement in Pakistan.

Nine years after 9/11 the quest to apprehend Osama had yet to succeed. As recounted by the Guardian, in the summer of 2010 the CIA linked Osama's courier to what would later be identified as his compound in Pakistan. But U.S. officials didn't want to jump the gun. So they devised a plan to compare the DNA of the compound's residents to DNA taken from a sister of Osama who died in Boston. The CIA enlisted Dr. Shakil Afridi to administer free hepatitis B vaccinations in Pakistan in hopes of sticking a bunch of bin Laden children with needles.

The children never got those hepatitis shots, according to National Geographic, but Osama got killed after Dr. Afridi obtained a telephone number that helped confirm Osama's location. Pakistan didn't approve of the ploy. Afridi was branded a traitor for aiding the CIA, charged with a bogus crime, and imprisoned for years. Distrust of vaccines intensified in Pakistan, per Vice, and immunization rates for polio, measles, and DPT decreased by as much as 13 percent among residents who support Islamist groups.