Al Qaeda‘s leadership in doubt with Zawahiri who is in poor health and Hamza bin Laden dead
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The suspected death of ‘crown prince of jihad‘ Hamza bin Laden has left al-Qaeda‘s future shrouded in greater mystery than ever, with its current leader reported to be in poor health and his mooted successor now apparently dead.
Hamza had long been regarded as a possible long-term heir to his father Osama, who masterminded 9/11 and remained the leader of the jihadist network until he was killed by U.S. forces in 2011.
Once the world‘s most feared terror group, al-Qaeda has been sidelined by in recent years but analysts believe Hamza had provided a younger voice for the group, whose aging leaders have struggled to inspire militants.
Ayman al-Zawahiri remains the head of al-Qaeda for now, but UN experts said this week that he was ‘reported to be in poor health‘, creating ‘doubts as to how the group will manage the succession‘.
The UN panel said the ‘longevity of Zawahiri is in doubt‘ and said al-Qaeda was lagging behind ISIS in funding, media profile and terrorist expertise.
U.S. officials now believe Hamza is dead, according to reports on Wednesday, throwing that succession into further chaos.
Who else could take over is unclear, as another second-in-command, Nasir al-Wahishi, was killed in 2015 and no clear hierarchy exists.
However, the UN panel warned that al-Qaeda ‘remains resilient‘ and said its affiliate groups were stronger than ISIS in Yemen, Somalia and much of West Africa.
In addition, al-Qaeda could be poised to recoup some support from ISIS after its ‘caliphate‘ crumbled to nothing earlier this year.
Up to 30,000 of those who travelled to the caliphate‘ may still be alive and some of them may join al-Qaeda and related groups, the panel warned.
Hamza was placed on a terrorist blacklist by the Obama administration shortly before it left office in 2017.
‘With the Islamic State ‘caliphate‘ apparently on the verge of collapse, Hamza is now the figure best placed to reunify the global jihadi movement,‘ former FBI special agent and Al-Qaeda specialist Ali Soufan wrote at the time of his blacklisting.
State Department officials said he was ‘determined to have committed, or pose a serious risk of committing, acts of terrorism that threaten the security of U.S. nationals or the national security‘.
Hamza, believed to be about 30 years old, is one of at least 23 of Osama bin Laden‘s children and was at his father‘s side in Afghanistan before 9/11.
He was introduced as an al-Qaeda member by Ayman al-Zawahiri in an audio message in 2015 and had called for acts of terror in Western capitals.
Zawahiri had been al-Qaeda‘s second-in-command before Osama bin Laden‘s death.
An Egyptian-born doctor, he met the older bin Laden in the mid-1980s when both were in Pakistan to support guerrillas fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan.
However, al-Qaeda has lost influence under his leadership and Hamza was seen as an ‘emerging leader‘ in the group.
Hamza was thought to be under house arrest in Iran when U.S. special forces raided Osama bin Laden‘s Pakistan compound and shot him dead in 2011.
Documents recovered from the compound indicated that aides had been trying to reunite him with his father.
A video of Hamza‘s wedding was also found in the Abbottabad compound and released by the CIA in 2017.
However, Hamza‘s whereabouts have never been pinned down and various reports have put him in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria.
In March this year, the navy SEAL who claims to have fired the fatal shot at Osama bin Laden posited that Hamza was hiding in Pakistan, protected by drug lords.
During his time in al-Qaeda he has threatened to target Americans abroad and urged tribal groups in Saudi Arabia to unite with Yemen‘s al-Qaeda.
He also threatened revenge over his father‘s death, promising to continue the militant group‘s fight against the U.S. and its allies in a speech entitled ‘We Are All Osama‘.
In addition, he has called for lone wolf, or solo-operative, attacks against U.S., French, and Israeli interests in Washington, Paris and Tel Aviv.
In March, Saudi Arabia announced it had stripped Hamza bin Laden of his citizenship, saying the decision was made by a royal order in November 2018.
Now he is believed dead, U.S. media reported yesterday, although President Trump has refused to confirm the claims.
Reports said he was killed during the last two years in an operation that involved the United States.
The reports suggested that Hamza may have been killed well before the State Department announced a $1million bounty on his head in February 2019.
Rita Katz, executive director of the SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks extremists, said Hamza had not just been targeted for being Osama bin Laden‘s son.
‘He was one of Al-Qaeda‘s loudest voices calling for attacks in the West and giving directives. He, with Al-Qaeda‘s help, was positioning himself to lead the global jihadi movement,‘ Katz said.
‘He was seen as a future leader who would unite the global jihad. Thus, if he is indeed dead, it will be a major blow to the movement,‘ she said.
The 2001 attacks on the U.S. were the largest terrorist loss of life on American soil, claiming the lives of 2,977 victims.
Earlier this year al-Qaeda called for support as it condemned the Pope‘s historic visit to the Gul.
In Yemen, the group is believed to be appealing to local tribes in an effort to embed itself in the civilian population.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has clashed with ISIS in Yemen in an effort to ‘maintain its position as the dominant terrorist group in its areas of operation,‘ the report found.
Meanwhile in Libya, ISIS and al-Qaeda apparently have overlapping areas of influence, with up to 200 fighters backing al-Qaeda.
The group still ‘considers Afghanistan a continuing safe haven for its leadership, relying on its long-standing and strong relationship with the Taliban leadership,‘ the panel said.
‘Al-Qaeda members continue to function routinely as military and religious instructors for the Taliban,‘ they said.
Osama bin Laden was based in Afghanistan when the Taliban ruled the country in the late 1990s and used it as a base for his operations.
The U.S. invaded Afghanistan shortly after 9/11 to drive the Taliban from power and weaken the terrorists‘ support base in the country.
Source: Stock Daily Dish