DUBAI: US President Donald Trump confirmed on Saturday that Hamza bin Laden, the son of Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, was killed in a counter-terrorism operation along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
“The loss of Hamza bin Laden not only deprives Al-Qaeda of important leadership skills and the symbolic connection to his father, but undermines important operational activities of the group,” Trump said.
Hamza was an active Al-Qaeda member, introduced to the world by Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri in an audio message in 2015, in a bid to capitalize on his father’s legacy, and to seek legitimacy after the emergence of Daesh.
US media, citing intelligence officials, reported in early August that the younger bin Laden had been killed some time in the last two years in an operation involving the US.
In July NBC News reported that Hamza had died, quoting three US officials who said they had obtained intelligence confirming his death had taken place some time in the last two years.
Arab News, citing a senior Pakistani source early August, confirmed Hamza had died “more than a year ago.” A tribal source in Afghanistan also told Arab News early last month that Hamza was killed in an airstrike.
“Hamza was in a house when the airstrike happened, and the locals only know that a young Persian-speaking man was killed, along with a Taliban activist, in that strike,” the tribal source said, adding that the apparent target was an Afghan Taliban member named Abdul Rauf.
“Hamza has died in Afghanistan, somewhere near the border with Pakistan, but it is unclear at this stage as to how he died.”
US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper confirmed the death, saying it was “his understanding” that the younger bin Laden was dead. But Trump and other senior officials had not publicly confirmed the news.
Bin Laden’s son was used to inspire and recruit militants in a total of 11 messages released mostly in 2016 and 2017, where he called on militants to attack the West. His last message was released in March 2018. He asked followers to attack Jewish people, Americans, and Russians.
Pakistani journalist Zahid Hussain told Arab News that Hamza’s death would be a symbolic blow to Al-Qaeda, which has been struggling to gain footing under Al-Zawahiri.
“Hamza was more of a symbolic leader and was not of a kind who could revitalize Al-Qaeda,” Hussain said, adding that “Ayman Al-Zawahiri remained the main leader. His reported death nevertheless will be a setback for the group.”
The US had previously refused to confirmed Hamza’s death, but said that nothing had been heard of him after the March 2018 message.
In February the US State Department, which designated Hamza bin Laden a global terrorist in 2017, announced it would pay $1 million for information leading to his whereabouts.
The department’s Rewards for Justice Program described him as “an emerging Al-Qaeda leader” who “has threatened attacks against the US and allies.”
Muhammad Amir Rana, a security analyst and director of the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies think tank, also said reports of Hamza’s death would be a blow to Al-Qaeda.
“He was among the core leadership of the organization and was ambitious to restructure the militant wing of Al-Qaeda ... that is why Hamza bin Laden was considered one of the future leaders,” Rana told Arab News.
He added it was an important year for US politics, with Trump seeking re-election in 2020.
“Initial candidate-level debates have started in the US, and this (Hamza’s death) might be a topic of discussion,” he said.
Osama bin Laden was killed by US special forces, who raided his Pakistan compound in 2011.