It's Business As Usual For
The Bin Laden Group

Times Of India

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 Ankara.
The project, which features building 11 high-rise residential 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 biggest 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 decades 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 oil-rich 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 palaces 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 Mosque in 1969.
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 several 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 countries 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 kingdom.
"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 Company (BTC).

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