In Depth

Who was Hamza bin Laden and how did he die?

The son of al-Qa’eda founder was reportedly killed in an air strike

Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza was killed in an air strike some time in the last two years, according to intelligences sources being cited by US media.

The exact time and location of his death are not clear, says the BBC, but reports suggest it was a military operation and that the US government was involved.

Earlier this year, the US State Department “called bin Laden, who is believed to be in his early 30s, an ‘emerging’ leader in the terror group al-Qa’eda”, says CNN.

The US offered “a million-dollar reward for information leading to his capture”, the news site adds.

The BBC reports that bin Laden was thought to have been under house arrest in Iran, although it was also claimed that he might have been near the Afghan-Pakistani border.

Both President Donald Trump his National Security Advisor, John Bolton, refused to answer journalists’ questions on Wednesday about the wanted man’s reported death. 

Al-Qa’eda has also failed to confirm or deny the claims. “Supporters of the Islamist militant group have urged caution over the reports and are awaiting an official announcement from its leaders, according to analysts at BBC Monitoring,” the broadcaster says.

Who was Hamza bin Laden?

Hamza bin Laden was thought to have been born in Saudi Arabia in 1989. Sky News reports that he is “believed to be the 15th of [Osama] bin Laden’s 56 children by 22 wives, but his exact date of birth is unclear”.

His mother was Khairiah Sabar, one of the former al-Qa’eda leader's three surviving spouses. Hamza spent his childhood in Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Afghanistan, and “as a boy and teenager, featured in al-Qa’eda propaganda videos”, according to the broadcaster. 

Little else is known about this early life. In January 2001, at the age of 12, he and his father, along with other family members, were filmed attending a wedding in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.

Footage shot in Ghazni province in November of the same year shows the young bin Laden and some of his siblings handling the wreckage of a US helicopter and working alongside members of the Taliban.

After his father was killed by a team US Navy Seals in May 2011, Hamza bin Laden is thought to have taken up his mantle and was “emerging as a leader of the Islamist militant group, officials say”, the BBC reports.

He was married to the daughter of Mohammed Atta, the Egyptian hijacker who flew American Airlines Flight 11 into the North Tower of the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001.

Why was the US looking for him?

Following Osama bin Laden’s death, letters and other items seized from the compound in Pakistan where he was hiding “indicated he was grooming Hamza bin Laden to replace him as al-Qa’eda’s leader”, CNN reports.

The younger man had been “trying to lead an al-Qa’eda resurgence”, reports The Guardian.

He plotted to carry out terror attacks on Western targets, “with the aim of restoring al-Qa’eda’s status at the vanguard of extreme jihadist groups, after many years of decline and eclipse by Islamic State”, the newspaper adds.

The BBC’s Washington correspondent Chris Buckler says that the $1m reward offered by the US for information on the jihadist “was a measure not just of the potential danger he posed but also his symbolic importance to al-Qa’eda and its propaganda machine.

“Bin Laden was only a child when his father helped plot the 9/11 attacks but, according to the extremist group's legend, he was by his side at the time.”

He was “also said to be in regular contact with Ayman al-Zawahiri, his father’s former deputy and now head of al-Qa’eda”, says The Times.

In 2016, bin Laden released an audio recording in which he threatened revenge against the US for assassinating his father, in a 21-minute speech titled “We Are All Osama”, according to Reuters.

“We will continue striking you and targeting you in your country and abroad in response to your oppression of the people of Palestine, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and the rest of the Muslim lands that did not survive your oppression,” he warned.

The US government designated bin Laden a “global terrorist [in January 2017], prohibiting US individuals from conducting transactions with him”, Al Jazeera reports.

In his last known public statement, in March 2018, he called on the people of the Arabian Peninsula to revolt.

Saudi Arabia removed bin Laden’s citizenship in March of this year, reports the BBC.

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