The widow of the Irishman who taught Osama bin Laden how to speak English has again spoken of her husband’s surprise when his former student became the most hated man in the world.
Breda O’Brien’s late husband Seamus was a private tutor to the Bin Laden family when the pair worked in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah in the 1970s.
Now retired and resident in Cork, she spoke to the Irish Independent in the wake of Monday’s assassination of the al-Qaeda leader who had always been described as ‘an inoffensive young fellow’ by her husband.
Her husband, she said, had always expressed surprise that it was the same Osama bin Laden they were talking about whenever bin Laden’s name was mentioned on television with al-Qaeda atrocities.
“He was surprised because as a young fellow the lad was inoffensive and didn’t show any hostility towards Seamus,” remembered O’Brien.
“Seamus was the Bin Laden’s private tutor and taught English to Osama and some of his brothers.
“I suppose he would have got to know him better during this time but you have to remember the Saudis are a very closed society.
“Seamus taught him English and said he was reasonably good. The father was I suppose, was what we’d call a ‘cute hoor’ and as a merchant he would have started with a desk on the side of the street and dealt with whatever was in demand, usually a money exchange.”
The former Saudi resident was also critical of the media coverage of Bin Laden’s death.
“I don’t like the media gloating over Bin Laden and it has become a gloat fest,” she told the Independent.
“They’d be better off saying a prayer for him and for the people he allegedly killed.”
O’Brien and her late husband, who died two years ago, spent seven years in Saudi Arabia in the 1970s where they both worked as English teachers.
“Seamus got a job in Al Thaghr School and taught Osama bin Laden there,” added O’Brien. “The school was for the rich and the thick and it was a difficult post, they were also very arrogant of course.
“Bin Laden’s father had his full quota of four wives, which is allowed for Muslims. Their house was very dour and there was no sign of ostentation whatsoever. It was very austere.
“When we saw clips of him on television all those years later, he still had that face of austerity.”