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Bin Laden's son to father: Change your ways

  • Story Highlights
  • Bin Laden's son, Omar, says his father should change his ways
  • Omar bin Laden split with his father in 2000; says he hasn't heard from him since
  • Omar bin Laden says he doesn't believe his dad is a terrorist
  • "I don't think 9/11 was right personally," the son said
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By Aneesh Raman
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CAIRO, Egypt (CNN) -- Omar bin Laden has a message for his father, Osama: "Find another way."

Omar bin Laden says he last saw his father in 2000 when the son decided to leave al Qaeda.

The son of the most-wanted man in the world spoke Sunday to CNN in a quiet, middle-class suburb about an hour outside Cairo, Egypt.

Omar bin Laden, who works as a contractor, said he is talking publicly because he wants an end to the violence his father has inspired -- violence that has killed innocent civilians in a spate of attacks around the world, including those of September 11, 2001.

"I try and say to my father: 'Try to find another way to help or find your goal. This bomb, this weapons, it's not good to use it for anybody,' " he said in English learned in recent months from his British wife.

He said that's not just his own message, but one that a friend of his father's and other Muslims have expressed to him. "They too say ... my father should change [his] way," he said. Video Watch whether Omar bin Laden thinks his father will ever be caught »

He said he hasn't spoken to his father since 2000, when he walked away from an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan with his father's blessings. He said he has no idea where his father is, but is confident he will never be caught because locals support him.

Asked if his father might be living along the Afghan-Pakistan border, he said, "Maybe, maybe not."

"Either way, the people there are different," he said. "They don't care about the government."

Now, he and his wife are preparing to launch a movement far different from the one his father, Osama bin Laden, launched. They are pursuing a movement for peace.

At first glance, Omar bin Laden appears to have little in common with the man who has eluded international efforts to find him. The 26-year-old's hair is bound in neat braids, he drives a Jeep and is married to a British national twice his age.

But the physical resemblance quickly sinks in, even without the long beard his father favors. It is a resemblance he doesn't avoid. "Being Osama's son, I don't hide it. I don't hide my name," he said.

"I am proud by my name, but if you have a name like mine you will find people run away from you, are afraid of you."

He said he doesn't consider his father to be a terrorist. When his father was fighting the Soviets, Washington considered him a hero, he said.

"Before they call it war; now they call it terrorism," he said. He said his father believes his duty is to protect Muslims from attack.

"He believes this is his job -- to help the people," he said. "I don't think my father is a terrorist because history tells you he's not."

However, Omar bin Laden -- who was 14 when he began training in al Qaeda camps -- said he differs greatly with his father over the killing of civilians.

Was 9/11 a just attack?

"I don't think 9/11 was right personally, but it happened," he said. "I don't think ... [the war] in Vietnam was right. I don't think what's going on in Palestine is right. I don't think what's going on in Iraq is right.

"If we make what is right and not right, we will make a very big list," he said.

He said he left al Qaeda because he did not want to be associated with killing civilians. He said his father did not try to dissuade him from leaving al Qaeda.

"I told him I was going, and wanted to try life and see what it was like outside because, from a young age I was with my father, and I only saw and heard my father and his friends. My father told me, 'If this is what your choice -- your decision -- is, what can I tell you? I like you to be with me, but this is your decision.' "

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So father and son went their separate ways.

But there has been no running from the bin Laden name, not after the events of September 11. On that day, Omar bin Laden was in Saudi Arabia, where 15 of the 19 hijackers were from.

Asked if, upon learning of the news, he knew his father had been behind it, he replied, "Yeah, maybe."

He said he felt sadness for those killed. "I don't think 9/11 was right personally," he said. "I don't agree with 9/11 or with any war where only civilians are dying."

Asked why he did not protest more strongly his father's role in the killing of civilians, he said it is up to the religious clerics close to his father to tell Osama bin Laden to change tactics in the name of Islam.

And even if that most unlikely scenario were to occur, he said, al Qaeda would not stop. "My father doesn't have the power to stop the movement at this moment."

Sitting by his side throughout the hour-and-a-half interview was his wife, Zaina. The two are organizing a multi-month horserace through North Africa in the name of peace, set to kick off this year.

But getting sponsors to line up behind the name bin Laden has been difficult. "It would probably have been easier to do a race without having Omar's name, but then the race would just be a race, it wouldn't be a race for peace," his wife said.

Omar bin Laden said his relationship with his father was limited. He is the fourth of 11 children born to his father's first wife, and he is one of 19 children Osama bin Laden has fathered. "Most of the time he busy, so busy, all the day he's busy [with] his friends. He was working a lot."


Omar bin Laden is now undertaking perhaps an impossible task: trying to rebrand the name they share.

But he said he is not looking for approval from his father. "My life, I take care of my life," he said. "My father he take care of his life." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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