Mohamed bin Laden was born in 1908 (or thereabouts) in the town of Doan in what is now Yemen. His father died when he was still a young boy and, as a teenager, he left home to find work, first in Ethiopia – where he lost an eye in an industrial accident – then in Jeddah, in the newly emerging Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where he eventually started a small building company. A pious Muslim, a hard worker, and possessing the gift of inspiring friendship and loyalty from the people he dealt with, over the next thirty years Mohamed bin Laden built his company into the largest construction contractor in Saudi Arabia, involved in projects throughout the Islamic world. After his death in an aircraft crash in 1967, leadership of the family business passed to his eldest son, Salem, a British-educated playboy with an astute commercial brain. He died in 1988, after flying a microlight aircraft into power lines, and nowadays the family companies are run by Salem’s younger brother Bakr: amongst their current projects is a $1.6 billion contract to build nine prisons for the Saudi government.
The family story has been carefully documented by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Steve Coll in The Bin Ladens. It is a painstaking, well-written account that seems to have left few sources of information untapped in digging out the details of a family who are, like many of their compatriots, inclined towards