Osama is far from being a selfless saint. His villa in Khartoum was sufficiently luxurious that he was able to sell it to local magnate on his departure. It is rather unlikely that Osama hides in caves now, especially considering that he has several wives. The story of him changing his location daily for six years is ludicrous: he has a higher chance of getting caught by switching locations frantically than by carefully sitting out the hunt. He would be quite safe in one of his family houses in Saudi Arabia. Saudi authorities would not want to alienate Muslims worldwide and discredit their own Wahhabite standing by extraditing Osama to America. By drawing America into an anti-terrorist war, Arab dictators make themselves indispensable allies of the US. Saudi newspapers regularly publish dreadful accounts of Bin Laden’s activities to present Saudi Arabia to the US as an important ally. Saudi Arabia hosts many prominent Al Qaeda figures; Saleh al-Awfi, Al Qaeda’s boss in Saudi Arabia, was still openly calling for attacks on Westerners in 2005. With the arrest of Osama’s CFO Sidi Tayyib and his subsequent plea bargain, the Saudis had all the information on Al Qaeda, including its assets, programs, and personnel; nothing followed. Neither the Saudis nor the Americans proceeded to attack Al Qaeda targets, and Osama didn’t fire warning shots in the form of a preemptive terrorist attack on Saudi Arabia. The enemies accommodate each other. Israel similarly refrains from targeting Hezbollah and Hamas despite extensive knowledge about their operations. The Saudis cunningly use the war on terror to do away with dissidents. In 1999 they rounded up 300 “supporters of Bin Laden” who were ostensibly preparing to attack US targets in Saudi Arabia. Neither Al Qaeda nor any other terrorist organization has ever perpetrated attacks with so large a number of participants. Osama, for his part, played into the Saudis’ hands, telling journalists about the huge losses the Saudis purportedly inflicted on Al Qaeda. In 1998, for example, Bin Laden claimed—or rather praised the Saudis—that 800 of his fighters had been arrested in the kingdom and some Stinger missiles confiscated. Are we to believe that thousands of his terrorists remained dormant forever in Saudi Arabia, all that mini-army staging a few blasts only? Or that he possessed the coveted Stinger missiles (Afghan-era, but still operational in 1998), but never used them?

Osama is renowned for caring for his associates, who tenderly call him Abu Abdallah. That fame stems from him setting up hospices for wounded Arab Afghans and providing for the families of captured terrorists. Most hospices by now have been taken down, and Osama doesn’t seem to offer lifetime pensions for crippled Arab Afghans. His help to the families is irregular and small; according to al Najjar, Osama paid $100 per month to families of captured EIJ members. Charity is a beloved Muslim activity, simple to set up, and Osama can easily collect money for it. No wonder he pays attention to charity.

Osama consciously creates a public image for himself. He claims an economics degree from Jeddah University, though the records show he never graduated or even studied that discipline. His humility doesn’t square with the number of his wives, at least four until 1998 and the number has probably grown since then; Osama has begotten more than two dozen children.

Osama bin Laden: rich and charitable