9/11 anniversary: How mastermind, Osama bin Laden, was influenced by his Secondary School teacher

9/11 anniversary: How mastermind, Osama bin Laden, was influenced by his Secondary School teacher

Sunday, September 11, 2016 5:00 pm


Osama bin Laden

Osama bin Laden

Today is the 15th anniversary ( 11 September 2001) of the bombing of the World Trade Centre in New York and other US targets by the Osama bin Laden-led Al Qaeda, a terrorist organisation. In other words, people associated with the Islamic extremist group, as history.com put it, hijacked four airliners and carried out suicide attacks against targets in the United States. Two of the planes were flown into the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, a third plane hit the Pentagon just outside Washington, D.C., and the fourth plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.

Often referred to as 9/11, the attacks resulted in extensive death and destruction, triggering major U.S. initiatives to combat terrorism and defining the presidency of George W. Bush. Over 3,000 people were killed during the attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., “including more than 400 police officers and firefighters.”

The mastermind of the attack was the late Osama, son of a millionaire contractor in Saudi Arabia, who made it big doing construction works for the Saudi Kingdom.

Saudi Arabia being a Sunni enclave, the question remains, how did an Islamic terrorist rise from there to become a problem to the world and Uncle Sam’s bogeyman? No thanks to the infiltration of the Saudi education system by radical Islamic elements from outside.

Osama’s secondary school Al Thagher Model School is one of the experimental centres for such inductrination from outside. It is sited north of the Old Mecca Road, near downtown Jedda, the Saudi Arabian port. It is here, according to The New Yorker magazine, bin Laden spent most of his childhood and teen-age years.

Most Al Thagher students, including bin Laden, were, according to the report, commuters, but there were a few boarders; they lived on the second floor, as did some of the school’s foreign teachers.

It was in this upstairs dormitory The New Yorker learnt that a
young Syrian physical-education teacher led an after-school Islamic study group for a few outstanding boys, and it was there, beginning at about age fourteen, that bin Laden received his first formal education in some of the precepts of violent jihad.

This is a big lesson to Nigeria. Governments at all levels should monitor what pupils are being taught in schools or after school. It is at this impressionable age that character is formed, a situation that led to Boko Haram agents and other incendiary elements that abound in Nigeria.

Part of The New Yorker story is published below:

‘Saudi Arabia during the nineteen-sixties, King Faisal welcomed exiled teachers from Syria, Egypt, and Jordan, even if they were influenced by the Brotherhood, because he believed that they had been unfairly persecuted for their religious and political beliefs. He also hoped that their emphasis on Islamic teachings might help to inoculate Saudi Arabia against ideas such as socialism and secular pan-Arab nationalism, which were then spreading through Arab societies. Moreover, as he expanded Saudi Arabia’s schools, Faisal faced
a shortage of qualified instructors of all kinds. The King “needed
teachers,” Khaled al-Maeena, a prominent Jedda newspaper editor, told me.

“Where would you get them?” Egypt and Syria offered Saudi Arabia a ready source at a time when the kingdom, barely a generation removed from widespread poverty and illiteracy, was struggling to produce teachers from its own population.

Formal political activity was banned in Saudi Arabia, so the Brotherhood-influenced teachers had to be careful. “When they came here, they realized the system does not allow any association” that might smack of
politics, said Muhammad Salahuddin, a magazine publisher and journalist in Jedda who came to Saudi Arabia from Egypt. Rather than organize a political network, the teachers often introduced their students more informally to the Brotherhood’s precepts of Islamic activism, political consciousness, and
violent jihad against Christian occupiers or secular leaders. The principal mission at Al Thagher, as laid out by the headmaster and wealthy supporters in the Jedda merchant community, was to prepare \'{e}lite young Saudis for roles in the kingdom’s modernizing economy; it had nothing to do with the Brotherhood’s goals. The after-school Islamic study group that bin Laden
joined was initially offered to exceptional students with the promise of
earning extra credit.

Bin Laden’s experience in the group was described for me during several interviews with a schoolmate who is now a successful professional in Saudi Arabia, and who asked not to be further identified, because, he said, he did
not want to risk reprisals from bin Laden’s sympathizers. The schoolmate had never given interviews about Al Thagher’s after-school Islamic study group, but he decided to do so, he said, because he hoped his account might warn other Saudi parents about the potential dangers of such informal tutoring,
particularly of the young and impressionable. His specific account of the group’s meetings is in accord with the more general recollections of several other Saudis who knew bin Laden during his Al Thagher years.

The Syrian physical-education teacher who led the group at Al Thagher was “tall, young, in his late twenties, very fit,” the schoolmate recalled. “He
had a beard—not a long beard like a mullah, however. He didn’t look like he was religious. \ldots He walked like an athlete, upright and confident. He was very popular. He was charismatic. He used humor, but it was planned

humor, very reserved. He would plan some jokes to break the ice with us.
“Some of us were athletes, some of us were not,” the schoolmate said of the group’s initial membership, which, besides bin Laden, included the sons of several prominent Jedda families. The Syrian “promised that if we stayed we could be part of a sports club, play soccer. I very much wanted to play
soccer. So we began to stay after school with him from two o’clock until five. When it began, he explained that at the beginning of the session we would spend a little bit of time indoors at first, memorizing a few verses from the Koran
each day, and then we would go play football. The idea was that if we memorized a few verses each day before soccer, by the time we finished high school we would have memorized the entire Koran, a special distinction.

“Osama was an honorable student,” the schoolmate continued. “He kept to himself, but he was honest. If you brought a sandwich to school, people would often steal it as a joke or eat it if you left it on the desk. This was a
common thing. We used to leave our valuables with Osama, because he never cheated. He was sober, serious. He didn’t cheat or copy from others, but he didn’t hide his paper, either, if others wanted to look over his shoulder.”
At first, the study group proceeded as the teacher had promised. “We’d sit down, read a few verses of the Koran, translate or discuss how it should be interpreted, and many points of view would be offered. Then he’d send us out to the field. He had the key to the goodies—the lockers where the balls and athletic equipment were kept. But it turned out that the athletic part of it
was just disorganized, an add-on. There was no organized soccer. I ended up playing a lot of one-on-one soccer, which is not very much fun.”

As time passed, the group spent more and more time inside. After about a year, bin Laden’s schoolmate said, he began to feel trapped and bored, but by then
the group had developed a sense of camaraderie, with bin Laden emerging as one of its committed participants. Gradually, the teen-agers stopped memorizing the Koran and began to read and discuss hadiths, interpretive stories of the life of the Prophet Muhammad, of varied provenance, which are normally studied to help illuminate the ideas imparted by the Koran. The after-school study sessions took place in the Syrian gym teacher’s room, on the second floor. The teacher would light a candle on a table in the middle of the room, and the boys, including bin Laden, would sit on the floor and listen. The stories that the Syrian told were ambiguous as to time and place, the schoolmate recalled, and they were not explicitly set in the time of the Prophet, as are traditional hadiths. “It was mesmerizing,” he said, and increasingly the Syrian teacher told them “stories that were really violent. I can’t remember all of them now, except for one.”

It was a story “about a boy who found God—exactly like us, our age. He wanted to please God and he found that his father was standing in his way. The father was pulling the rug out from under him when he went to pray.” The Syrian “told the story slowly, but he was referring to `this brave boy’ or
`this righteous boy’ as he moved toward the story’s climax. He explained thatthe father had a gun. He went through twenty minutes of the boy’s preparation, step by step—the bullets, loading the gun, making a plan. Finally, the boy shot the father.” As he recounted this climax, the Syrian declared, “Lord be praised—Islam was released in that home.” As the schoolmate recounted it, “I watched the other boys, fourteen-year-old boys, their mouths open. By the grace of God, I said `No’ to myself. \ldots I had a feeling of anxiety. I began immediately to think of excuses and how I could avoid coming back.”

The next day, he stopped attending the after-school sessions. Eventually,
after an awkward period of pulling away from his study-group friends, he joined a different circle of boys. During the next several years, he said, he watched as bin Laden and the others in his former group, who continued to study with the Syrian, openly adopted the styles and convictions of teen-age Islamic activists. They let their young beards grow, shortened their trouser legs, and declined to iron their shirts (ostensibly to imitate the style of the Prophet’s dress), and, increasingly, they lectured or debated other students at Al Thagher about the urgent need { to restore pure Islamic law across the Arab world }{>shariah: the gateway drug}.

It is unclear whether the Syrian teacher was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood or was simply influenced by some of its ideas about political activism and violent jihad against unbelievers; his whereabouts today are unknown. Bin Laden’s schoolmate said the teacher left Al Thagher twenty-five years ago.”

Credit: The New Yorker, December 5, 2005.

Read the remaining part of the story here: http://www.johnclamoreaux.org/smu/islam-west/s/obl-youth.pdf

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