Hamza bin Laden, the son of Osama bin Laden and once-possible heir to the al-Qaeda terrorist network, was killed in a U.S. counterterror operation in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, President Donald Trump said Saturday – an announcement that comes more than a month after officials suggested he was killed.
Osama bin Laden’s son was “responsible for planning and dealing with various terrorist groups,” Trump said in a statement released by the White House. His death is a blow to al-Qaeda’s leadership acumen, Trump said, and symbolic given the connection to his slain father, who was killed in a Navy SEAL raid on his Pakistani refuge in 2011.
Hamza’s death could have significant influence on al-Qaeda’s future. Unifying and charismatic, and carrying the name of terrorist royalty, bin Laden had in recent years become the group’s voice and face in messages calling for attacks worldwide. But relatively little is known about the 9/11 mastermind’s youngest son – not even his formal role in al-Qaeda or his age, which is believed to be around 30.
Trump gave no further details over the operation to kill the younger bin Laden, and it is unclear when and where he was killed. No recordings featuring bin Laden had been released for several months, and al-Qaeda has not issued a formal announcement over his death, even though it is typical for the group to do so when leaders are killed.
Ayman al-Zawahiri, who co-founded al-Qaeda, remains the organization’s leader. His whereabouts are unknown.
While the White House confirmed Hamza bin Laden’s death on Saturday, U.S. officials for months have telegraphed the possibility of his killing at the hands of the U.S. In July, NBC reported it obtained intelligence he was killed.
Hamza bin Laden was an appealing figure for a younger generation of Islamist militancy, terror experts have said, as al-Qaeda competes with the Islamic State for visibility and recruits.
He was “beloved by the global jihadi community” because he “stressed unity” in his speeches and never criticized the Islamic State, Rita Katz, a terrorism expert with the SITE Intelligence Group, said in July when public reports of his death began to circulate.
While he was never given a formal title within the group, Katz wrote, his death would be a “major blow to the movement.” He was described by U.S. officials as the emerging leader of al-Qaeda as recently as March.
Documents recovered from the raid to kill Osama bin Laden, which included directions to aides on how to care for and educate his son, indicated plans to groom him for senior militant leadership.
The State Department offered a $1 million reward for information about bin Laden’s son, saying he released audio and video messages that called on followers to “launch attacks against the United States” and threatened revenge for father’s killing.
While Osama bin Laden favored large and intricate terror strikes, such as the Sept. 11 attacks, his son called for quick, spontaneous worldwide violence against Americans, Europeans, Jews and pro-Western Muslims using any weapon the militants could muster.
“If you are able to pick a firearm, well and good; if not, the options are many,” he said in a 2017 recording.
The Pentagon and U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, referred queries to the White House.
While Trump hailed the killing of Hamza bin Laden as a victorious moment, a resolution in the 18-year old conflict in Afghanistan – where al-Qaeda was harbored by the Taliban – has proven to be elusive.
U.S. military activity in Afghanistan has focused on containing Taliban and Islamic State militants while peace negotiations and decisions on a U.S. troop withdraw have sputtered along. Trump declared those peace talks “dead” on Monday.
(c) 2019, The Washington Post · Alex Horton