Osama bin Laden’s young son might be next in line to lead the terrorist group his father founded decades ago.
Hamza bin Laden, thought to be in his mid-20s, released an audio message this week calling on jihadists to unite and “liberate Palestine,” leading experts to theorise that he’s being groomed to take over Al Qaeda, according to the British publication The Independent.
Andreas Krieg, an analyst at King’s College in London, told The Independent that Hamza “has been labelled a crown prince” after he survived the 2011 US special operations raid that killed his father.
But he hasn’t yet achieved anything significant within the organisation, Krieg said.
“I think Hamza is following al-Zawahiri knowing that he cannot emerge from his shadow just yet — if ever,” Krieg told The Independent, referring to current Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
“Being the son of Osama bin Laden alone does not provide you with kudos in a community of jihadists in which some have been fighting for three decades,” he added.
Zawahiri knew Osama before he founded Al Qaeda, and he took over the group’s leadership after Osama’s death.
Even if he has no plans to step down, the US has been targeting Al Qaeda leaders successfully for years. Documents seized from Osama’s compound in Pakistan during the raid show that he was particularly concerned about drone strikes targeting Hamza, as Thomas Joscelyn noted last year in The Long War Journal after Hamza released his first audio message.
In that message, Hamza called for continued attacks against the West, including “lone wolf” attacks.
At the time, Joscelyn wrote that it was clear Al Qaeda hopes that Hamza will represent a “new generation of Al Qaeda followers.”
Bruce Riedel at The Brookings Institution also wrote last year that the audio message was “a clear effort to underscore [Hamza’s] legitimacy as the heir to Osama bin Laden.” Hamza has already pledged loyalty to Zawahiri, signifying that he is a member of Al Qaeda.
Riedel noted that Hamza is an “attractive spokesman for Al Qaeda.” Hamza’s involvement with Al Qaeda stretches back to when he was a boy. He was reportedly in Afghanistan with his father before the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, then travelled with him to Pakistan after the attacks.
“He carries the legacy of his father’s name and life’s work,” Riedel wrote. “… Hamza provides a new face for Al Qaeda, one that directly connects to the group’s founder.”
Riedel concluded that Hamza is “an articulate and dangerous enemy.”
Rita Katz, the director of the SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks terrorist communications online, said on Twitter last year that Hamza’s audio statement signified a “brand revival” within Al Qaeda that could renew the popularity of the group. Its major jihadist competitor, ISIS (also known as the Islamic State, ISIL, or Daesh), has overtaken Al Qaeda in recent years in attracting recruits.
Hamza’s current whereabouts are unknown, but authorities are searching for him.
In 2011, David Graham at Newsweek reported that Hamza is perhaps Osama’s “most militant son.” Books on Al Qaeda and the bin Laden family have indicated that Hamza has long had the mindset of a jihadist, Graham wrote. One story recalls Hamza reciting a poem about killing infidels when he was a boy.
And in 2001, Al Jazeera aired footage that showed Hamza in a Taliban camp, according to the BBC.
“Other videos use Hamza’s voice and show footage of him reading a poem, running drills in a camp — young but eager and clad in fatigues — and leading a group of uniformed boys about his age in chants,” Graham wrote.
He added: “The charisma that made Hamza a star of jihadist videos as mascot-cum-warrior could translate into even greater fame as he matures into a battle-hardened mujahid, cultivates his ties with Al Qaeda’s highest levels, and gains new status as the son of the martyred Osama bin Laden.”
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