What could have been a regular Tuesday morning in the United States turned out to be a day of terrifying and heartbreaking mass murder. The nation witnessed a series of four coordinated terrorist attacks by the al-Qaeda on September 11, 2001, in which at least 3,000 people were killed and over 6,000 sustained injuries.
While millions of people were left shell-shocked, the attacks also rocked the world of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's mother Alia Ghanem, who never thought her son would end up a jihadist.
Ghanem has remained tight-lipped about her firstborn for years, but as the 17th 9/11 anniversary nears, his mother opened up to the Guardian to remember her "good kid" Osama. "My life was very difficult because he was so far away from me," she told the publication. "He was a very good kid and he loved me so much."
Ghanem, now in her mid-70s, remembers Osama as a shy and intelligent child, who was a very good student and loved studying. She said that it was only in his 20s that her son developed a strong and pious personality, a time when he was also radicalised. He was studying economics at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah and "the people at university changed him," she added. "He became a different man."
She also revealed that she often told him to stay away from certain people in his life, but Osama never admitted to her about what he was doing. "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. They got money for their cause. 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," Ghanem told the Guardian.
Speaking of how the family perceived him, the family said that whoever met Osama in the early 80s really looked up to him and they were proud of this. "Even the Saudi government would treat him in a very noble, respectful way," Osama's half-brother Hassan added. However, things changed when Osama became a mujahid.
Hassan said that he is still proud of Osama as he was his oldest brother and taught him many things. "But I don't think I'm very proud of him as a man. He reached superstardom on a global stage, and it was all for nothing."
Ghanem then added to Hassan's opinion and said that she loved Osama but was very upset when she found out he had become a jihadist. "I did not want any of this to happen. Why would he throw it all away like that?"
Osama's mother refuses to blame him
While the world may call Osama a terrorist and the leader of al-Qaeda, which took the lives of thousands of people, for Ghanem he is just her son. She still believes he was brainwashed, but his half-brother clarifies that she sees his "good boy side."
"It has been 17 years now [since 9/11] and she remains in denial about Osama," Ahmad, another half-brother, explained. "She loved him so much and refuses to blame him. Instead, she blames those around him. She only knows the good boy side, the side we all saw. She never got to know the jihadist side."
When asked how he reacted when he got to know of the 9/11 attacks in New York, he told the Guardian that he was "stunned."
"It was a very strange feeling. We knew from the beginning [that it was Osama], within the first 48 hours. From the youngest to the eldest, we all felt ashamed of him. We knew all of us were going to face horrible consequences. Our family abroad all came back to Saudi," Ahmad added.
What the family went through
Things heated up for the family after the 9/11 attacks, and they remember the time they became prisoners at their own home. They were questioned by the investigating officials and weren't allowed to leave the country. "In Saudi, there was a travel ban. They tried as much as they could to maintain control over the family," Ahmad added.
Today, the family is free to travel within Saudi Arabia and abroad.
Osama's youngest son Hamza's plans to avenge father's death
It has been reported that Osama's youngest son Hamza, 29, is in Afghanistan and working with al-Qaida's new leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. How does the family feel about Hamza's declaration that he would avenge Osama's death?
"We thought everyone was over this," Hassan said. "Then the next thing I knew, Hamza was saying, 'I am going to avenge my father.' I don't want to go through that again. If Hamza was in front of me now, I would tell him, 'God guide you. Think twice about what you are doing. Don't retake the steps of your father. You are entering horrible parts of your soul.'"
The last time Osama's mother Ghanem saw her son was in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 1999. Osama's bodyguard Abu Jandal has earlier said that the mother-son duo seemed very close and that Osama respected her. However, when she asked him to give up jihad, he told her: "This is a principle. I keep it in my heart and I have promised God not to abandon it," reported CNN.