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Monday, 8 October, 2001, 09:36 GMT 10:36 UK
Binladin name 'hijacked'
Faisaliah Center in Riyadh under construction
Binladin Group built the pyramid-shaped Faisaliah Center in Riyadh
Bin Laden - the name is reviled in much of the Western world, but shared by one of Saudi Arabia's largest business empires.

The respected name of the Binladin group - which uses the traditional English spelling of the family name - has been "hijacked", said the half-brother of Osama Bin Laden in the first interview by a family member since the attacks on the US.

In the early 1990s, the family repeatedly reached out and made attempts to plead with Osama to moderate his views ... after these attempts failed, there was a reluctant but unanimous consent that Osama should be disowned

Abdullah Mohammed Binladin
"Our name is being hijacked," Abdullah Mohammed Binladin told the Boston Sunday Globe.

Though there is no evidence of financial links between Osama Bin Laden and the $5bn-a-year Saudi Binladin Group, some business partners have quit joint ventures.

The family disowned Osama Bin Laden in 1994, and Mr Binladin said they have no connections with him.

"In the early 1990s, the family repeatedly reached out and made attempts to plead with Osama to moderate his views," Mr Binladin said.

"After these attempts failed, there was a reluctant but unanimous consent that Osama should be disowned."

Family business

The Saudi Binladin Group is operating with Royal privilege and associated with most of Saudi Arabia's prestigious construction projects.

Deceased King Faisal of Saudi Arabia
Mohammed Bin-Awad Binladin built his business on links with King Faisal

Though it is trying to extend its business globally, the bulk of the Binladin Group's business remains in the kingdom.

Founder Mohammed Bin-Awad Binladin, originally from the Hadramaut region of Yemen, designed and built the al-Hada road in the 1950s, for Muslims to make the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

This gained him the trust of Saudi Arabia's King Faisal, who hired him to rebuild the mosques in Mecca and Medina, the holiest sites in Islam.

After Mohammed died in 1967, control of the family business passed first to his son Salem, and then to another son Bakr, after Salem's death in a plane crash in 1988.

The Binladin Group also built the pyramid-shaped Faisaliah Center skyscraper in Riyadh, which opened last year, and restored Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, Islam's third holiest site.

Contracts to build military facilities for US forces in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War are thought to have caused the split between the family and Osama.

Partners review

Despite the failure of some small business deals, most of the Binladin Group's international partners are standing by the company, though some are keeping the situation under review.

Faisaliah Center in  Riyadh
The Faisaliah Center: Lucrative construction contract

Dutch ABN Amro bank, which owns 40% of a Saudi bank that has dealt with the Binladin Group for seven decades, said it has no evidence of wrongdoing.

"If there is new information regarding a client which would lead us to revaluate the relationship or review the relationship then we will not hesitate to do so," an ABN spokesman said.

Chas W Freeman Jr, a former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia and now chairman of Projects International, a Washington company that arranges global business deals, said he would continue discussing proposals with the Binladin Group.

But he added that some companies which have had "very long and profitable relationships" with the group were "now running for public relations cover".

He blamed ignorance, and said the Binladin name remained "very honoured" in the kingdom.

Damage limitation

But some businesses have not taken any chances that their images could be damaged.

"Given the events of the past two weeks, we will be monitoring the situation closely," said Citigroup, which provides banking services to the Binladin Group.

The UK soft drink and confectionery company, Cadbury Schweppes, has severed ties with a Saudi distributor owned by a Lebanese holding company in which the Binladins have a minority stake.

A Cadbury Schweppes spokeswoman said that the attacks on the US prompted it to speed up an earlier decision to cut ties because of slow sales.

"I think it is understandable," she said.

Multitone wireless networking of Britain suspended dealings with Baud Telecommunications, a Binladin Group subsidiary, after the terrorist attacks.

"At times like this, businesses such as ours... have a duty to act with total integrity," said Michael Walker, chief executive, but noted the company does "very little" business in Saudi Arabia.

Abdullah grounded

Meanwhile Abdullah, who at 35 is the youngest of the 54 children born to wives of the late Mohammed Bin-Awad Binladin, has remained in Boston Massachusetts while the rest of his US-based relatives have gone into hiding.

He told the Boston Sunday Globe that since 11 September he had stopped using credit cards and avoids using his name for fear of upsetting strangers.

Mr Binladin, who moved to the Boston area in the 1990s and earned a doctorate at the Harvard Law School, has also suspended his hobby of flying single-engine planes.

He last saw Osama at the funeral of their oldest brother, Salem, in 1988.

"He had been living most of the time in Afghanistan," Abdullah recalled.

"I personally did not know him very well."

See also:

19 Sep 01 | Business
Following the money trail
18 Sep 01 | South Asia
Who is Osama Bin Laden?
18 Sep 01 | Middle East
Saudi king promises US full support
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