This month was the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, so it is interesting to ask what Usama bin Laden’s IQ was. In all those years he was hiding in the caves of Afghanistan, anyone could have snuck across the border, stumbled upon his cave, and handed him a copy of the Standard Progressive Matrices.

Average IQ of the Arab World: 84 (UK norms)

The first question that needs to be answered is how do Saudi Arabians perform on the SPM? In 2010, 15-year-old Saudis averaged 36 out of 60 on the SPM.


This put them at the 14th percentile of UK 1979 norms which equates to IQ 84 (UK norms). Although these norms were 29 years old, no adjustment for the Flynn effect is needed because the UK’s Raven Flynn effect in teens appears to have plateaued in 1979:

From Lynn, R. (2009). Fluid intelligence but not vocabulary has increased in Britain, 1979–2008. Intelligence, 37(3), 249–255.

Expected IQ of World’s most influential Arab: 117

Now regardless if one considers Usama to have been an evil geopolitical Genius or just a useful idiot for the neocons, there’s no denying that September 11th was arguably the most consequential event of our lifetimes, so by the end of his life, Usama was not just the most evil Arab on the planet, but arguably the most influential. Indeed objectively he should have been Time magazine’s Person of the Year in 2001 but fearing this would be misinterpreted as praise, Rudy Giuliani got the title instead after Oprah crowned him “America’s mayor”. Analogously, Einstein had been named Person of the Century because giving that tile to Hitler was anathema. Many years later, when it was safe, Time would name Usama (and Hitler) among of the 100 most influential people of all time.

If there were a perfect correlation between IQ and influence, the most influential Arab out of 423 million would have an IQ 88 points higher than the average Arab. But given the correlation is only about 0.37, the most influential Arab has an expected IQ 88(0.37) = 33 points higher than the average Arab, or IQ 117. The standard error of this estimate would be 13.9. 95% Confidence Interval: IQ 90 to IQ 144.

Expected IQ of a 6’5″ Arab: 97

As a kid, Usama was praised for his light skin and height. The FBI listed him as 6’4″ to 6’6″. Let’s say he was 6’5″. This is about 3.5 standard deviations taller than the average Arab man (5’8″).

If there were a perfect correlation between IQ and height, Usama would have been 53 IQ points smarter than the average Arab, but since the correlation is only 0.24, his expected IQ was 53(0.24) = 13 points above the Arab mean. In other words IQ 97. Standard error: 14.55. 95% Confidence Interval: IQ 68 to IQ 126.

Expected IQ when World’s most influential Arab was also 6’5″: 125

A random Arab has an expected IQ of 84 but being the World’s most influential Arab adds 33 IQ points and being 9 inches taller than average adds 13 IQ points. Since Usama met both of these criteria, it’s tempting to add these expectations together and conclude he was 33 + 13 = 46 points smarter than the average Arab.

However these expectations can not be added because they’re not fully independent. Part of the reason Usama was influential is he was tall enough to command respect. And part of the reason he was so tall, is he comes from an influential well-fed family. For example the correlation between height and income (a proxy for influence) is 0.13.

When we remove this redundancy, and look only at the independent predictive power of influence and height, his influence adds 30 IQ points and his height adds 11, so Usama’s expected IQ is 30 + 11 = 41 points above the Arab mean of 84. In other words, his expected IQ was 125. Standard error: 13.6. 95% confidence interval: IQ 98 to IQ 152

Whoever was the mastermind behind the September 11th attacks likely had an IQ above 120. Planes are transportation, not missiles, so to adapt them to such an evil purpose required thinking outside the box ( lateral thought) which is probably quite g loaded. However a member of a super high IQ society famously said after September 11th (I paraphrase from a 20-year-old memory):

Surprising that anyone smart enough to pull off such an attack would be sufficiently unwise as to actually do it.

Bill Gates’s comment about Epstein implies equally to Usama: “Well, he’s deadso in general you always have to be careful,”