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Bin Laden's name wins followers

Published Sep. 29, 2005

When his son came into the world in November, Ghani Jan said he knew in an instant who his namesake would be.

"I named him Osama, for Osama bin Laden," Jan, a clerk in the city's electricity department, said as he cradled his smiling son. "Osama bin Laden is such a good person. Everybody likes the name."

Bin Laden, the suspected mastermind of the U.S. Embassy bombings in East Africa last year, is a folk hero to the villagers of Pakistan's untamed northwest frontier. In the year since the bombings, the name Osama has emerged as one of the most popular for newborns. Bin Laden's name and face also adorn shops, schools, posters and postcards.

In the dusty streets and winding bazaars of this old border town, there is the Osama Cloth House and the Osama School. An Osama Bazaar holds more than 100 shops, and the Osama Mosque attracts more than 100 families. Outside town, many merchants have changed the names of their businesses to cash in on the Osama craze: Osama Poultry Farm. Osama Watchmaker. Osama Medicines. And the Osama Knife Center.

"It's good for business," said Irshad Ahmad of Osama Optical, an eyeglass store in the nearby town of Mardan. "He has given everything for Islam. He is fighting the holy war all over the world."

While official records are not available, health officials in Peshawar have verified that the name Osama has become very popular.

"A lot of people are naming their sons Osama," said Iramullah Khan, a Peshawar official. "It's just like during the Gulf War, when everyone was naming their sons Saddam."

The Osama boom reflects a widespread admiration for bin Laden in this region, which borders the Afghan province where the suspected terrorist is thought to be hiding. Many people here say they admire bin Laden because he is standing up to the United States.

"With their television, adultery, drinking, the West is trying to destroy our culture," said Saleem Khan, a sales clerk who named his son Osama. "Osama is fighting against the cruelty of the West."

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