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Profile: Hamida al-Attas
Hamida al-Attas was a participant or observer in the following events:
Salem bin Laden, left, and Bakr bin Laden, right. Salem is killed in a plane crash in 1988. [Source: Public domain via Steve Coll]Shortly after the Saudi government publicly disowns bin Laden (while privately continuing to support him) (see April 9, 1994), the bin Laden family follows suits and publicly disowns him as well. Bakr bin Laden, the chairman of the Saudi Binladin Group, the main bin Laden family company, signs a two-sentence statement. Osama bin Laden has 25 brothers, 29 sisters, and more in-laws, aunts, uncles, and so forth. Der Spiegel will later report that in the years bin Laden lives in Sudan, Saudi intelligence minister “Prince Turki [al-Faisal] sent Osama’s mother, Hamida, and his brother Bakr to the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, several times to convince Osama to abandon his terrorist activities. The visits were so frequent that Israel’s intelligence agency, the Mossad, believed at the time that Osama was a Saudi spy.” Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, will say, “I tracked the bin Ladens for years. Many family members claimed that Osama was no longer one of them. It’s an easy thing to say, but blood is usually thicker than water.” Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA unit specializing in hunting bin Laden, doubts that the entire bin Laden family has severed ties with Osama. In a 2005 interview he will say, “I haven’t seen anything in the last 10 years that’s convinced me that would be the case.” [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 6/6/2005; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 6/6/2005]
Der Spiegel will later report that in a “very brief conversation Osama [tells] his mother that he [will] not be able to call again for a long time, a remark that seem[s] cryptic to the agents listening in at the time, especially when Osama add[s] that ‘great events are about to take place.’” The NSA had been tracking Osama bin Laden’s satellite phone number since 1996, and also tracking the number of his mother, Hamida al-Attas, living in Saudi Arabia, on the off chance he would call her and tell her something important. Bin Laden apparently had called her more than anyone else, but this is his last call to her. Around this time, President Bush is so convinced that the best way to catch bin Laden is through his mother that he is reputed to tell the Emir of Qatar, “We know that he’ll call his mother one day - and then we’ll get him.” Hamida has remained loyal to her son in the wake of 9/11, saying in 2003, “I disapprove of the ambitions the press ascribe to him, but I am satisfied with Osama, and I pray to God that He will guide him along the right path.”
[CNN, 3/12/2002; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 6/6/2005] Note that this warning is similar to, but apparently different from, another warning phone call bin Laden makes in early September 2001. That call is to Al-Khalifa bin Laden, his stepmother and not his mother, who lives in Syria and not Saudi Arabia (see September 9, 2001).
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