A close friend of Osama bin Laden told Al Arabiya that he thought the al-Qaeda mastermind’s son was probably still alive casting doubt on reports by American media that he was killed in Pakistan.
Yemeni national Rashad Saied, who stayed with bin Laden in Afghanistan before the September 11, 2001 attacks, said there is no proof to U.S. media reports last week that Saad bin Laden was killed in an American airstrike on Pakistan earlier this year.
"If Saad had been killed, al-Qaeda would have announced that," Saied told Al Arabiya. "They announced the death of many key figures in the organization before. It is considered a source of pride for them."
According to American officials, the 29-year old Saad fled to Pakistan after spending years in Iran, where he was arrested in 2003. Intelligence officials said bin Laden’s third-oldest son played an active role in establishing a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda.
In January 2009, the U.S. Department of Treasury froze Saad’s bank accounts because of his affiliation to al-Qaeda and his active, though relatively minor, role in the terrorist organization. He was also believed to have been leading al-Qaeda from Iran.
But Saied dismissed the idea that Saad's bank accounts had been frozen since al-Qaeda eschewed the formal banking system.
"The organization has never used banks. Money was always carried by people," he said.
Although Saied, who now lives in Yemen where he is retired, is not active in al-Qaeda he supports their mission. He said he thought it was likely that Saad was leading al-Qaeda from Iran.
"I agree that he played an important role in Iran. He has good relations with Iranians and he speaks very good Persian. Plus, he has the trust of his father as well as Ayman al-Zawahiri and Sheikh Aboul-Yazid, the second and third men in al-Qaeda, respectively," he explained.
Saied said he believed Saad is currently in Afghanistan since the situation is improving there and there would be no need to remain in Iran.
Saad has always been very close to his father and believed in his ideology.
"I always thought he looked like his father. He is very popular in al-Qaeda, but Osama does not believe in bequeathing power. He believes the organization should be run by thought and work and not lineage," he explained.
When asked why Saad disappears and reappears, Saied replied that this a strategy followed by members of al-Qaeda and especially with key figures like Saad.
Saad bin Laden is the son of Osama's first wife Nagwa Ghanem, a Syrian cousin on his mother’s side who he married when she was 17.
According to Peter Bergen’s 2006 book The Osama bin Laden I Know, Osama's mother was Syrian from Latakia, where he and Ghanem got married around 1974. Saad bin Laden is married to another al-Qaeda member.
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid; edited by Courtney C. Radsch)