LONDON (Reuters) - Al Qaeda and the Taliban are only allies of convenience and “do not love one another,” according to a son of Osama bin Laden, who grew up partly in a group of al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan.
The ties between the two groups are of intense interest because international forces are contemplating talks with the Afghan Taliban to forge a political settlement in Afghanistan and foment a rift between the group and al Qaeda.
Western counter-terrorism officials say they believe al Qaeda leader bin Laden and his mainly Arab senior associates are still based in the remote Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, living under the protection of Afghan Taliban leaders.
Capturing or killing bin Laden remains an important goal of Western powers and analysts say the West will seek to encourage the Taliban to view al Qaeda as a dispensable liability.
“Although Al-Qaeda and the Taliban organizations band together when necessary, they do not love one another,” Omar bin Laden, 28, said in an interview with Reuters by email.
“If there were no more enemies left on earth, I believe they would fight each other.”
The al Qaeda’s leader’s fourth eldest son, Omar bin Laden broke with his father in early 2001 on leaving Afghanistan for the last time. A resident of Afghanistan for much of 1996 to 2001, he is the member of the immediate family who has rebelled most vigorously against his father, who is believed to have about 20 children from various wives.
In a portrayal of allies privately jealous of their independence, Omar bin Laden suggested Taliban-al Qaeda ties would have changed little in the years since 2001 because both the groups were always “happier” with their own members.
“Journalists still write stories that my father and (Taliban leader) Mullah Omar are very close and confer with the other.”
“I do not believe this. I was by my father’s side when he met with Mullah Omar. Although the two form alliances when needed, each is happier with his own organization and the men in that organization. Do not believe what you read about al Qaeda and the Taliban being close comrades.”
In an interview organized by intermediaries, Omar bin Laden declined to say where he was living, explaining this was for security reasons. Media reports have said he has lived recently in both Qatar and his birthplace Saudi Arabia.
In “Growing up bin Laden,” a book he co-wrote with his mother, bin Laden’s first wife Najwa, Omar bin Laden portrays an awkward relationship between bin Laden and Mullah Omar.
Omar bin Laden witnessed a 1998 encounter in which the Taliban leader demanded the al Qaeda chief leave Afghanistan following al Qaeda bombings of East African U.S. embassies that drew U.S. strikes on Afghanistan.
In tense exchanges, Osama bin Laden won a reprieve by telling Mullah Omar the demand was “giving in to infidel pressure” and therefore un-Islamic, the book says.
But according to this account, Mullah Omar ended the encounter by refusing to eat a meal bin Laden’s men had prepared and did not bid farewell, an insult his father had to accept.
“He (Osama bin Laden) could not afford to get into a battle with the Taliban. He would lose, and he knew it,” wrote Omar.
Omar bin Laden said his father was a strong personality well able to endure the hardships of life in remote mountain caves.
“I am sure that my father is taking care of his life, for he feels himself on a mission for Islam,” he said. “My father’s personality is so strong he can cope with anything, although I am certain he is surrounded by many men who would die for him.”
“His followers love him very much and will give their lives to protect him. Therefore I am certain that he has ample company and that if he likes, there are plenty of people to talk with.”
Asked how he would feel if his father was killed in combat, he replied: “I have no way of knowing how my father’s life will end. Only God knows. I will say that if he is killed in combat, some Muslims will mourn him, but this is not a secret in the world.”
Editing by Angus MacSwan