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Relative offers look at bin Laden life

GENEVA -- The only family member to talk openly about Osama bin Laden describes him as pious and merciless, a man so driven by his beliefs that he once denied a water bottle to his infant son in the heat of the Saudi desert.

Carmen Binladin, the terrorist leader's sister-in-law, says bin Laden's religious conviction was so admired by his family that she cannot believe his relatives have stopped supporting him, as they have claimed.

In a new book and during an extensive interview, she said a turning point in her life was a bin Laden family gathering in Taef, Saudi Arabia, on a sweltering day in the mid-1970s.

Bin Laden's son began crying for water, she said, but the elder bin Laden did not allow the baby to be given a water bottle, saying the boy should be fed water with a spoon because of Muslim teachings.

"It was not as if he didn't care about the child. But to him, the baby's suffering was less important than a principle which he probably imagined stemmed from some seventh-century verse in the Koran," Binladin said in her book, "Inside the Kingdom."

The respect her husband and Osama bin Laden's 23 other brothers accorded him by accepting his decision helped persuade her to leave Saudi Arabia, Binladin says.

"From what I have seen and what I have read, I cannot believe that they have cut off Osama completely," Binladin said on the eve of a visit to the United States to promote her book, to be published in English on Wednesday.

She said some of Osama's sons are still in Saudi Arabia, working for the Bin Laden Group construction company, which the 25 brothers inherited from their father, Mohammed bin Laden.

"Osama is not the only religious [bin Laden] brother in Saudi Arabia," Binladin said. "And I cannot believe that some of the sisters [don't support him.] They are very close to Osama."

She said there also may be ties between Osama bin Laden and the royal family, despite his criticism of the royals for their support of the United States and alleged corruption within the government. "The bin Ladens and the princes work together, very closely," she wrote. "They are secretive, and they are united. They have been inextricably linked for many decades through close friendships and business ventures."

Binladin married Yeslam, one of Osama's brothers, in 1974 and lived in Saudi Arabia for nine years. She said she wrote the book mainly to explain to her daughters why she had returned with them to Switzerland. She and Yeslam are in a protracted divorce battle.

The daughter of a Swiss father and an aristocratic Iranian mother, Binladin -- dressed stylishly in a black leather jacket and jeans -- spoke with a French accent.

She and her estranged husband intentionally spell their name differently from the rest of the family.

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