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Osama's son wants to be a 'peace ambassador'

His striking resemblance to his notorious father may scare you, but this 26-yr-old has a noble mission in mind. He wants to be a peacenik between Muslims and the West.

world Updated: Jan 18, 2008 13:36 IST

Omar Osama bin Laden bears a striking resemblance to his notorious father, except for the dreadlocks that dangle halfway down his back. Then there's the black leather biker jacket.

The 26-year-old does not renounce his father, Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, but in an interview with The Associated Press, he said there is better way to defend Islam than militancy: Omar wants to be an "ambassador for peace" between Muslims and the West.

Omar, one of bin Laden's 19 children, raised a tabloid storm last year when he married a 52-year-old British woman, Jane Felix-Browne, who took the name Zaina Alsabah. Now the couple says they want to be advocates, planning a 3,000-mile (4,825-kilometer) horse race across North Africa to draw attention to the cause of peace.

"It's about changing the ideas of the Western mind. A lot of people think Arabs, especially the bin Ladens, especially the sons of Osama -- are all terrorists. This is not the truth," Omar told the AP last week at a cafe in a Cairo shopping mall. Of course, many may have a hard time getting their mind around the idea of "bin Laden: peacenik."

"Omar thinks he can be a negotiator," said Alsabah, who is trying to bring her husband to Britain. "He's one of the only people who can do this in the world."

Omar lived with the Al-Qaeda leader in Sudan, then moved with him to Afghanistan in 1996.

There, Omar says he trained at an Al-Qaeda camp but in 2000 he decided there must be another way and he left his father, returning to his homeland of Saudi Arabia.

"I don't want to be in that situation to just fight. I like to find another way and this other way maybe like we do now, talking," he said in English.

He suggested his father did not oppose his leaving _ and Alsabah interjected that Omar was courageous in breaking away, but neither elaborated.

Although there is no way to confirm the details he describes of his childhood and upbringing, the strong family resemblance and Omar's knowledge of Osama's family life have convinced many of his lineage.

"Omar Bin Laden is the son of Osama bin Laden and his first wife, Najwa," a US intelligence official said on Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. The official confirmed Omar was raised in Sudan and Afghanistan after his father was forced out of Saudi Arabia. Omar and his wife insist they have not been bothered by Egyptian officials, who said on Thursday, that the terror leader's son did not pose a threat.

Omar said he hasn't seen or been in contact with his father since leaving Afghanistan. "He doesn't have an e-mail,'' Omar said. "He doesn't take a telephone ... if he had something like this, they will find him through satellites.''

Omar doesn't criticize his father and says Osama bin Laden is just trying to defend the Islamic world.

"My father thinks he will be good for defending the Arab people and stop anyone from hurting the Arab or Muslim people any place in the world,'' he said, noting that the West didn't have a problem with his father when he was fighting the Russians in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Omar is convinced a truce between the West and Al-Qaeda is possible.

``My father is asking for a truce but I don't think there is any government (that) respects him. At the same time they do not respect him, why everywhere in the world, they want to fight him? There is a contradiction,'' he said.

Osama bin Laden, believed to be in hiding in the Pakistan-Afghan border region, offered a truce to Europe in a 2004 audiotape and a conditional truce to the United States in a 2006 message. In November, he called on European nations to pull out of Afghanistan in a message seen by some experts as an effort to reach out to Europe.