Hamza bin Laden sought to continue his father’s terrorism legacy
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Affected Countries: afghanistan;
As a boy, Hamza bin Laden appeared in propaganda films for Al Qaeda, the terrorist group led by his father, Osama. He preached jihad, trained with fighters and was introduced as a voice of Al Qaeda, “a young lion to carry forth the cause.”
But much of his story remains shrouded in mystery. And when American officials announced on Wednesday that the younger Mr. bin Laden had been killed in a United States strike in the past two years, details about where and how he died were as scarce as information about his life in the shadows.
He was believed to have been about 30 years old.
Mr. bin Laden had been mistakenly pronounced dead before, when officials thought he had died in the SEAL raid to kill his father. Two years ago, there was also a failed attempt to kill him, according to three officials.
Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies noted on Twitter on Thursday that Al Qaeda-affiliated channels on Telegram, the messaging app, had been discussing the reports of Mr. bin Laden’s death, but there has been no official confirmation or denial from Al Qaeda’s general command.
After an American Navy SEAL team killed Hamza’s father in 2011, documents recovered from the hide-out in Pakistan showed that Hamza, a favorite of his father, was being groomed for a leadership role in Al Qaeda. From a young age he showed a keen interest in joining his father’s violent campaign against the United States and its allies.
The younger bin Laden was named a member of Al Qaeda in 2014 by his father’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahri. The group’s leaders saw in the young man with the famous name as a figure someone who could attract followers of rival Sunni Islamist groups like the Islamic State.
Hamza vowed vengeance for his father’s death, calling for attacks on Western capitals and warning Americans that they would be “targeted in the United States and abroad,” according to the State Department.
In a series of audio recordings released by Al Qaeda beginning in 2015, Hamza bin Laden called for the overthrow of the Saudi monarchy and urged Syrian jihadi groups to unite to liberate the Palestinians.
In others, he criticized the Obama administration for what he called “hollow lies” and vowed revenge for the death of his father, according to the Soufan Group, a New York-based organization that conducts security analysis.
In another, he offered advice for prospective jihadis to “follow in the footsteps of martyrdom-seekers before,” according to analysis from the Long War Journal, a publication from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based policy institute.
But he also had another side, according to those close to his father. A 2010 letter to Osama bin Laden, written by an aide, called his son “very sweet and good,” and described his ardor to join the fight for Al Qaeda.
“He comes back to me asking me that he should be trained and participated in giving,” the letter read. “He does not want to be treated with favoritism because he is the son of ‘someone.’ I promised him to plan some safe training for him: firing arms and with various weapons.”
Hamza bin Laden married a daughter of a senior Qaeda leader, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah. A video of their wedding was found in the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where his father was killed. His family also told The Guardian in 2018 that he had married the daughter of Mohammed Atta, a mastermind of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but it was not clear when.
In a letter published by Al Qaeda in December 2017, Hamza bin Laden said his 12-year-old son had been killed, according to the SITE Intelligence Group. But the circumstances were unclear.
That same year, the United States officially listed him as a “global terrorist.” In February of this year, the State Department announced a $1 million reward for information about his whereabouts, and Saudi Arabia revoked his citizenship, but it is not clear whether he was already dead by then. The United Nations Security Council also put him on a sanctions list this year.
Hamza Osama Muhammad bin Laden was believed to have been born on May, 9 1989, in Jidda, Saudi Arabia, one of 23 children his father would eventually have, according to Western intelligence agencies. His mother is Khairiah Sabar, one of the Qaeda leader’s three surviving wives. The State Department also lists an alterative birth year, 1986.
Osama bin Laden and his family fled Afghanistan after the American invasion in 2001, and ever since there had speculation about Hamza bin Laden’s whereabouts, with theories and unconfirmed reports placing him in several countries. But letters to and from his father indicate that in 2009 and 2010 he was living in Iran, possibly being held against his will by the Shiite authorities there.
More recent reports indicated that he lived in Tehran in an upscale villa with two wives and his sister. Others said he operated in the border areas intersecting Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, but did not live in Iran.
Bilal Sarwary, a former BBC reporter in Afghanistan, posted on Twitter that he had learned in January that Mr. bin Laden was alive and moving back and forth between Pakistan and Kunar Province in Afghanistan, but that could not be independently verified.
Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who has been studying the inner workings of Al Qaeda for years, said that the younger bin Laden’s role in the organization remained opaque.
“We don’t actually know what his real role was within Al Qaeda,” Mr. Joscelyn said. “We know Al Qaeda was marketing him as a voice for a younger generation; you could see that when they would put out these audio messages from him.”
But one thing was clear, he said, Al Qaeda saw him as an heir to his father’s legacy and its fighters were keen to have him take part in their propaganda messaging.
Mr. Joscelyn cited evidence in the older bin Laden’s personal files — a trove released by the C.I.A. — that his son had received elite training but preferred that he not take on a military role. Hamza’s own ambitions, based on his audio recordings and letters to his father, seemed to indicate a desire to take an active role in Al Qaeda.
“Hamza insisted on following in his father’s footprints to a certain degree,” he said, “and he was for certain his father’s biological and ideological heir.”
In a 2009 letter, the younger bin Laden wrote: “My beloved father, I was separated from you when I was a small child, not yet 13, but I am older now, and have attained manhood.”
“But what truly makes me sad,” he added, “is the mujahedeen legions have marched and I have not joined them.”
Source: Central News Now