- IYADH (AFP) - Osama Bin Laden
may be the world's most wanted man, but where his family is concerned,
it's business as usual -- big business, that is.
- The Bin Laden family, which has close ties with Saudi
Arabia's rulers, has been awarded a $533 million housing project in the
holy city of Mecca that has sparked a diplomatic spat between Riyadh and
- The project, which features building 11 high-rise
towers with 1,000 apartments and a twin-tower five-star hotel, will be
carried out by the Bin Laden Construction group, one of the kingdom's
firms with estimated assets of around $5 billion.
- Covering 23,000 square meters (247,000 sq feet) and due
to be completed in 2005, the project also involves the construction of
a modern replica of the Ottoman-era Ajyad fortress that was used for
to defend Mecca against attacks from rebel tribes and whose demolition
last week infuriated Turkey.
- The Bin Laden Construction group was founded by Mohammad
Bin Laden, father of the chief suspect in the September 11 anti-US attacks,
in the Saudi Red Sea port city of Jeddah in the 1950s.
- The group grew into one of the major firms in the
kingdom when it was entrusted by the royal court with the task of expanding
Islamic holy sites in Mecca and Medina.
- The work, costing billions of dollars, enabled more than
two million faithful to gather at Mecca's Grand Mosque and a million to
pray at the Prophet's Mosque in Medina.
- The Bin Laden Construction group also built several
in Riyadh and Jeddah for members of the Saudi royal family and carried
out restoration work following an arson attack on Jerusalem's al-Aqsa
- Salem Bin Laden, Mohammad's eldest son, ran the financial
empire left behind by his father upon his death in 1968 until he himself
died when his private plane crashed in Texas in 1988.
- Mohammad Bin Laden left 54 sons and daughters from
marriages. Thirteen of his sons sit on the board of the family's firm,
the most prominent being Baker, Hassan, Islam and Yehya.
- Baker, Mohammad's second son, succeeded Salem at the
head of the firm, which has since extended its reach to several Arab
and employs tens of thousands of people.
- The Bin Laden family disowned Osama after he was stripped
of his Saudi citizenship in 1994 for suspected terrorist activities and
criticism of the Al Saud ruling family.
- One sign of the Saudi authorities' confidence in the
Bin Laden group came in 1998 when it built a $150 million facility in al-
Kharj, south of Riyadh, for some 4,300 American troops based in the
- "We have nothing to do with him (Osama)," a
family member recently told AFP, requesting anonymity.
- In an attempt to avoid any association with the suspected
terror mastermind, one of the Bin Laden group's subsidiaries changed its
name in 1999, from Bin Laden Telecommunications to Baud Telecommunications