January 17, 2008
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
CAIRO – Omar Osama bin Laden bears a striking resemblance to his notorious father, except for the dreadlocks that dangle down his back.
Then there's the black leather biker jacket.
The 26-year-old doesn't renounce his father, Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, but said in an interview there's a 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 say they want to be peace advocates, planning a 5,000-kilometre horse race across North Africa to draw attention to the cause.
"It's about changing the ideas of the Western mind," Omar said in an interview. "A lot of people think Arabs, especially the bin Ladens, especially the sons of Osama, are all terrorists.
"This is not the truth."
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.
Omar said the West didn't have a problem with his father when he was fighting the Russians in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
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.
However, in a series of messages since last fall, he also has been calling for Muslims to rally around jihad, or "holy war."
During his epic peace ride, Omar said they plan to ride 50 kilometres a day, with periodic weeklong rests in each country they pass through.
Teams from around the world will be encouraged to join in what the couple envisions as an equine version of the Paris-Dakar car rally.
That rally was cancelled this year due to fears over terrorist threats made by Al Qaeda-affiliated groups in North Africa.
Omar, however, said he isn't worried.
"I heard the rally was stopped because of Al Qaeda," he said. ``I don't think they are going to stop me."