TAICHUNG, Taiwan (Reuters) – Osama bin Laden stood out not just because of his height but because of his serious, conservative demeanor, according to a Taiwan man who says the al Qaeda leader, killed by U.S. troops on Monday, was a student in his judo classes in Saudi Arabia.
Jimmy Wu, a top Taiwan judo coach, told Reuters in an interview on the sidelines of a tournament in the central city of Taichung that he came across bin Laden when coaching the Saudi Arabian national judo team from 1981 to 1991.
Bin Laden, whom Wu then knew only as “Osama,” attended classes at the judo center while still a university student. He was too tall for judo, and Wu said he advised him against the sport, but he was insistent so Wu accepted him.
“I didn’t know the name bin Laden then,” Wu said. “After 9/11 (attacks on New York and Washington), I was invited to a seminar, and some of my former students there said ‘oh Jimmy, Osama, now he’s our hero’. I was surprised and I looked for some pictures and I said ‘oh this guy’ and I started to have some memory of him.”
Wu showed Reuters photographs of himself and a tall, thin, bearded, serious young man with a mop of black hair whom he said was Osama. Osama attended lessons two to three times a week but Wu never saw him again after 1984.
Reuters has no way of verifying that the man in the pictures was bin Laden.
Bin Laden was shot dead by U.S. forces in Pakistan on Monday. He had been on America’s most wanted list since his followers carried out the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York in 2001.
Pakistan officials said on Saturday that he may have lived in the country for seven years.
Wu, now an Australian citizen who divides his time between Sydney, Taiwan and the Middle East, remembered an occasion when his wife came to find him at the judo center. She had wanted to go shopping and Wu was late.
“She came into the center and most of the students weren’t bothered, some smiled, but one really tall one came to me and said ‘who is that?’”
Wu replied that it was his wife.
“The tall one said ‘this is the center, no women should be in here’. He did not approve. I have a particular memory of this. That was Osama.”
(Additional reporting by Asma Alsharif in Riyadh; Writing by Jonathan Standing; Editing by Nick Macfie)
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