Explainer: Why the US is wary of Osama’s ‘favourite son’ Hamza bin Laden

Saudi Arabia has revoked the citizenship of Hamza bin after the US offered a $1 mn reward for information on one of the sons of slain al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Hamza, after US Navy SEALs killed his father in Pakistan in 2011, is feared to be taking the reins of al-Qaeda’s operations, the State Department said late Thursday, demanding information on his whereabouts.

What the US said and demanded

“Hamza bin Laden … is emerging as a leader” in al-Qaeda, the department said in a statement. “He has released audio and video messages on the Internet, calling on his followers to launch attacks against the United States and its Western allies; he has threatened attacks against the United States in revenge for the May 2011 killing of his father by US military forces,” it read.

The US also claimed that the evidence it collected from the elder bin Laden’s hideout-compound during the raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, indicated that Osama had been grooming Hamza—supposedly his son—to take over as the terror group’s leader, officials said.

It further announced a $1 mn reward for help in locating Hamza bin Laden in any country as part its “rewards for justice” programme.

While the hunt continues, the US requires all UN member states to freeze the younger bin Laden’s assets, and comply with a travel ban and arms embargo, according to the State Department Bureau of Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism.

Saudi Arabia stripped Hamza of his citizenship, official newspaper Um al-Qura reported Friday, citing a royal order issued to the Interior Ministry.

What we know about Hamza bin Laden

US officials estimate Hamza bin Laden’s age between 30 and and location near the Pakistani-Afghan border; although other reports suggest he may have lived in Syria.

Intelligence reports also indicate that Hamza may have spent years with his mother in Iran, where his wedding to Mohammed Atta’s daughter may have taken place.

Atta had hijacked one of the four commercial aircraft used in the 2001 attacks and crashed it into one of the World Trade Center towers in New York, according to the US State Department. The CIA, in 2017, made footage from his wedding public.

According to the BBC, he has released audio and video messages calling on followers to attack the US and its Western allies in recent years, to avenge his father’s killing. In March 2018, he reportedly appeared in an audio message urging citizens of Saudi Arabia to prepare for jihad against their monarchs.

The US officially designated him as a global terrorist two years ago.

Why Hamza is a threat

Although Osama bin Laden’s death effectively ended al-Qaeda, the US-led war in Afghanistan post-9/11 was the beginning of the end for the notorious militant group. The still-ongoing war toppled the Taliban regime, which had given Osama and his group sanctuary.

Even though al-Qaeda continues to operate under a dull Egyptian strategist, for the time being, it has regrouped and considerably over the past few years, planning exceedingly impressionable attacks on the West and its allied governments in the Middle East and Africa. But intelligence officials all over the world are convinced that this hibernation was only temporary and would inevitably end, sooner or later.

“Al-Qaeda during this period has been relatively quiet, but that is a strategic pause, not a surrender,” said US Co-ordinator for Counter-terrorism Nathan Sales. “Today’s al-Qaeda is not stagnant. It’s rebuilding and it continues to threaten the United States and its allies Make no mistake, al-Qaeda retains both the capability and the intent to hit us,” he is reported as saying by the BBC.

Two decades later, the possibility of Hamza emerging as a charismatic leader of a rejuvenated al-Qaeda has US counter-terrorism officials on tenterhooks; since Osama’s death, it has focused its war on terrorism on another fanatic militant group, the Islamic State. He is a threat the US is keen to eliminate.

War on terror: Why it matters

The US, however, isn’t going to cease all efforts with only a bounty on Osama’s son; it is currently brokering a deal with the Taliban to demilitarise Pakistan in return for a check on terrorist activity. In January, the US and Taliban agreed to negotiate along those lines for the first time in decades.

Vox reported that American officials and Taliban representatives were both present in Qatar, which houses the headquarters of the Taliban, and discussed terms, including a possible ceasefire and full US withdrawal for almost a week. 

In that case, India, which has refrained from direct intervention in Afghan politics so far, will need a concrete strategy that takes serious of the repercussions of Taliban’s militant history, especially if it filters into Kashmir, says The Diplomat. India also needs to take into account Pakistan as a key player in Afghan politics whose interests include using as a “hedge” against Indian power.

Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius

al-QaedaOsama bin LadenTerrorismUnited States