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Updated: May 12, 2011 03:38 IST

Legal principles violated, say bin Laden’s sons

Scott Shane
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This January 11, 2008 file photo shows Omar bin Laden, son of Osama bin Laden in Cairo.
AP This January 11, 2008 file photo shows Omar bin Laden, son of Osama bin Laden in Cairo.

Arbitrary killing is not a solution, they say

The adult sons of Osama bin Laden have lashed out at President Barack Obama in their first public reaction to their father's death, accusing the United States of violating its basic legal principles by killing an unarmed man, shooting his family members and disposing of his body in the sea.

The statement, provided to The New York Times on Tuesday, said the family was asking why bin Laden, leader of al-Qaeda, “was not arrested and tried in a court of law so that truth is revealed to the people of the world”.

Citing the trials of Saddam Hussein, former Iraqi leader, and Slobodan Milosevic, former Serbian leader, the statement questioned “the propriety of such assassination where not only international law has been blatantly violated” but also the principles of presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial were ignored.

“We maintain that arbitrary killing is not a solution to political problems,” said the statement, adding that “justice must be seen to be done”.

The statement, prepared at the direction of Omar bin Laden, who had publicly denounced his father's terrorism, was provided to The Times by Jean Sasson, an American author who helped the younger bin Laden write a 2009 memoir, “Growing Up bin Laden.” A shorter, slightly different statement was posted on jihadist websites.

Omar bin Laden (30) lived with his father in Afghanistan until 1999 when he left with his mother, Najwa bin Laden, who co-wrote the memoir. In the book and other public statements, the younger bin Laden had denounced violence of all kinds, a stance he repeated in the sons' statement.

Sorrow for victims

“We want to remind the world that Omar bin Laden, the fourth-born son of our father, always disagreed with our father regarding any violence and always sent messages to our father, that he must change his ways and that no civilians should be attacked under any circumstances,” said the statement. “Despite the difficulty of publicly disagreeing with our father, he never hesitated to condemn any violent attacks made by anyone, and expressed sorrow for the victims of any and all attacks.”

Condemning the shooting of one of the al-Qaeda leader's wives during the assault on May 2 in Abbottabad, Pakistan, the statement added: “As he condemned our father, we now condemn the President of the United States for ordering the execution of unarmed men and women.”

In explaining the killing of bin Laden, Obama administration officials have cited the principle of national self-defence in international law, noting that bin Laden had declared war on the United States, killed thousands of Americans and vowed to kill more.

The sons' statement called on the government of Pakistan to hand over to family members the three wives and a number of children now believed to be in Pakistani custody and asked for a United Nations investigation into the circumstances of their father's death.

None of Osama bin Laden's sons other than Omar, who lives in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, was named in the statement; Ms. Sasson said she believed it was approved by three other adult sons who have not lived with their father for many years. Before Osama bin Laden fled Afghanistan in 2001, he had at least 11 sons, one of whom was killed in the assault last week, and nine daughters, by Ms. Sasson's count.

In addition to the statement, Ms. Sasson shared notes on what Mr. Omar, who declined to be interviewed directly, had told her by telephone in recent days. The notes describe his struggle, as he came of age, to understand and eventually reject his father's embrace of religious violence.

Family affected

He told Ms. Sasson that the death of his father “has affected this family in much the same way as many other families” that experience such a loss. But he also described a childhood of “upheavals and relocations” that, she said, “caused his mother and siblings great upset and danger”.

Mr. Omar said by 18, after al-Qaeda had plotted the bombings of two American Embassies in East Africa and two years before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, he had concluded “that the course of action his father was taking was not for him, irrespective of what his father's wishes were,” said Ms. Sasson.

Eventually he asked his father's permission to leave Afghanistan with his mother and younger siblings.

The younger bin Laden told Ms. Sasson that he “thanks Allah that his father granted his permission for this departure, otherwise the grief the family faces could be even greater.” — New York Times News Service

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