Origin of the Bin Laden Family
Today one of the biggest construction groups in the kingdom [of Saudi Arabia] and the Middle East, the "Bin Laden empire" traces its origins to Sheik Mohammed Bin Laden, a native of the Chafeite (Sunni) Hadramout who emigrated [from South Yemen] to Saudi Arabia at the beginning of the
The beginnings of his activity are shrouded in mystery. It is said that, having satisfied King Abdul Aziz with construction work on the royal palace, Mohammed Bin Laden was awarded a much more prestigious contract: the renovation of Mecca. Whatever the actual circumstances, it is a fact that the Saudi royal family gave the Bin Laden family--and group--exclusive rights to all construction of a religious nature, whether in Mecca, Medina or--until 1967--the Holy Places in Jerusalem. This enabled the Bin Ladens to establish an industrial and financial empire which now extends far beyond religious construction projects.
The relationship between the Bin Ladens and the Saudi royal family is quite exceptional in that it not simply one of business ties: it is also a relationship of trust, of friendship and of shared secrets. This is particularly the case with regard to the group's present-day leaders and the Soudairi clan.
Thanks to the renovation of Mecca, Sheik Mohammed Bin Laden did not become merely Kin Abdul Aziz' official contractor, but his friend and confidant as well. This friendship has been handed down to their children. The Bin Laden sons went to the same schools as the numerous offspring of King Abdul Aziz and they all followed the same path.
Role and Influence
One of the connections which still explains many of the personal ties existing throughout the Middle East is the Victoria College in Alexandria, where the Bin Laden boys attended classes along with schoolmates such as King Hussein of Jordan, Zaid Al Rifai, the Kashoggi brothers (whose father was one of the king's physicians), Kamal Adham (who ran the Saudi [security] services under King Faisal), present-day contractors Mohammed Al Attas, Fahd Shobokshi and Ghassan Sakr and actor Omar Sharif.
The relationship of trust between the royal family and the Bin Laden group has never been repudiated, although it is known to have undergone some serious crises. The most important was doubtless the 1979 Mecca affair. Because the Bin Laden company had the exclusive contract for repairs in the Holy Places, its trucks entered and left Mecca at all hours without being inspected. And the rebels used "Bin Laden" trucks to get weapons into the city. One of the Bin Laden sons, Mahrous, was actually arrested on account of his ties with the Islamists, but was later freed. He is currently manager of the group's Medina
The reason is as follows: after studies in England, where he had kept company with Fadli (son of the ex-sultan of the Abdin region in South Yemen, now leader of a Yemeni fundamentalist group and arrested in Aden last January), Mahrous struck up friendships with a group of Syrian Moslem Brothers in exile in Saudi Arabia. Subsequent Saudi intelligence investigations showed that these Moslem Brothers had taken advantage of Mahrous to use Bin Laden trucks without his knowledge.
There was a touch of irony to the episode: when the insurrection broke out, the Saudi security services had to go for help to the Bin Ladens, the sole parties in possession of maps of Mecca enabling the Saudi (and Western) police to find their way through the city's underground passageways. In any case, the episode also demonstrated the strength of the ties between the royal family and the Bin Laden Group. Had it been some other group, there is no doubt that Mahrous--whether accomplice or patsy--would have been thrown into prison and the group barred from further economic activity in the kingdom, the sentence serving as a warning to others. This was not the case.
Likewise, the Saudi authorities' decision to issue an arrest warrant for Osama Bin Laden on May 16th 1993 does not threaten to affect the relationship between the Bin Ladens and the royal family. Osama, one of Mohammed's youngest son, has been known for years for his fundamentalist activities. ...The arrest warrant was issued both because of his support for fundamentalist groups involved in terrorist operations in Algeria and Egypt and his ties with upstart religious circles that tried to establish an independent human rights organization in Saudi Arabia at the beginning of May.
Contrary to appearances, both the Osama and the Mahrous incidents testify to the Bin Laden's influence within the kingdom.
The ties of friendship binding Bin Laden family members to King Fahd and his brothers make them prime confidantes and advisors. They play an obvious advisory role in Saudi-Yemeni relations. Still, they hold very few economic or financial interests in their ancestral homeland and certainly do not flaunt their family origins.
King Fahd's two closest friends were: Prince Mohammed Ben Abdullah (son of Abdul Aziz' youngest brother), who died in the early '80s and whose brother, Khaled Ben Abdullah (an associate of Suleiman Olayan), still has free access to the king; and Salem Bin Laden, who died in 1988.
Like his father in 1968, Salem died in a 1988 air crash...in Texas. He was flying a BAC 1-11 which had been bought in July 1977 by Prince Mohammed Ben Fahd. The plane's flight plans had long been at the center of a number of investigations. According to one of the plane's American pilots, it had been used in October 1980 during secret Paris meetings between US and Iranian emissaries. Nothing was ever proven, but Salem Bin Laden's accidental death revived some speculation that he might have been "eliminated" as an embarrassing witness. In fact, an inquiry was held to determine the exact circumstances of the accident. The conclusions were never
In spite of Salem's death, the Bin Ladens are still part of the small group of friends surrounding the king which includes, in particular, Prince Khaled Turki Al Soudairi (married to one of Fahd's sisters), Prince Faisal Ben Turki Al Abdullah (married to another sister and father of Prince Abdullah Ben Faisal, head of the Royal Jubail Commission) and the family of Moona (Fahd's wife), the Ibrahims.
As trusted servants of the royal family, the Bin Ladens have also often acted as chaperones to the king's sons, helping them get their start in business. This was the case with both Prince Mohammed Ben Fahd and Prince Daud Ben Nayef, two of the most active second-generation princes and both at the head of financial empires during the '80s. Both princes were often encountered along with one or another of the Bin Laden sons at the head of international companies.
Appointed governor of the Eastern Province in the mid-'80s, Prince Mohammed Ben Fahd resigned from the chairmanships of his companies, putting Prince Saud in his place. The latter, named vice-governor of the Eastern Province last June, has also since withdrawn from a number of business activities.
There was also a political aspect to Salem Bin Laden's financial activities. Like Ali Ben Moussalem, Salem Bin Laden played a role in the U.S. operations in the Middle East and Central America during the '80s.