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Osama's Prodigal Son: The Dark, Twisted Journey of Omar bin Laden

His father tested chemical weapons on his dogs, tried to turn him into a suicide bomber and groomed him to lead Al Qaeda

January 20, 2010 10:40 AM ET
Osama's Prodigal Son: The Dark, Twisted Journey of Omar bin Laden
Reportage by Getty Images for Rolling Stone

It is after midnight when Osama bin Laden's fourth-born son, Omar, leads me into a nightclub called Les Caves de Boys in the center of Damascus. Marked only by a small neon sign on a side street in an upscale quarter of the city, the basement bar is dark and secluded, enveloped by an air of exclusivity. Omar brushes past the two heavyset Syrian thugs at the door and picks a booth in the back. A dozen or so wealthy Arab men are drinking whiskey and watching Russian strippers put on a show. By Western standards, the performances are tame, a succession of scantily clad women in burlesque costumes — Little Bo Peep, pigtailed schoolgirl, pole-climbing gymnast. But as Omar sips a 7 Up, he follows their every move with boyish wonder. Russian women, he tells me, are the most beautiful in the world. "It is as if their bodies are shaped with plastic, like dolls," he says.

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As a teenager in the mountains of Tora Bora, Omar had been his father's chosen successor, the favored son meant to lead Al Qaeda and carry on global jihad. Then, in 2001, a few months before Osama bin Laden was to become the world's most wanted man, Omar abandoned his father's compound in Afghanistan. He left behind almost certain death for this: the world, Les Caves de Boys, life.

This article appeared in the February 4, 2010 issue of Rolling Stone. The issue is available in the online archive.

Now, as a dancer joins a drunken man in the booth next to us, Omar reflects on his own connection to the strippers onstage. "I have talked to these women before," he says. "I tell them my name. Sometimes they don't believe I am a bin Laden. Sometimes they get mad. They have to dance like this because their country is poor. It was my father who made Russia poor, in the war in Afghanistan. He ruined their economy. He is doing the same thing to America right now."

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Omar smiles. It's a knowing and ironic look, the age of terrorism turned into a cosmic joke: Can you believe how fucked up things are?

Past two in the morning, a statuesque dancer emerges for the grand finale. Dressed in a red rhinestone bra and panties, with a black shimmy belt and an ostrich-feather crown, she gyrates her hips as Omar watches, mesmerized.

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"Thank God my father doesn't run the world," Omar says, grinning.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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