What we know about Hamza bin Laden: Osama's son now target of $1M U.S. government bounty

Friday - 01/03/2019 15:35
photograph circulated by the U.S. State Department’s Twitter account announcing a $1 million US reward for al Qaeda key leader Hamza bin Laden, son of Osama bin Laden. (U.S. State Dept./Reuters)
photograph circulated by the U.S. State Department’s Twitter account announcing a $1 million US reward for al Qaeda key leader Hamza bin Laden, son of Osama bin Laden. (U.S. State Dept./Reuters)
Hunting for Hamza

The U.S. government is on the hunt for Osama bin Laden's youngest son, identified as the "emerging leader" of the family business, al-Qaeda.

Hamza bin Laden  was named a "specially designated global terrorist" two years ago. Now American authorities are offering a $1 million reward for information that "brings him to justice."

The offer, posted online yesterday, notes that he has released a number of audio and video recordings in recent years calling for attacks against the United States in revenge for the Navy Seal raid that killed his infamous father in May 2011.

This undated file picture shows Osama bin Ladin speaking at an undisclosed place inside Afghanistan. The Al-Qaeda mastermind was killed late on May 1, 2011, by U.S. forces deep inside Pakistan. (AFP/Getty)
This undated file picture shows Osama bin Ladin speaking at an undisclosed place inside Afghanistan. The Al-Qaeda mastermind was killed late on May 1, 2011, by U.S. forces deep inside Pakistan. (AFP/Getty)

And it comes along with news that Saudi Arabia has stripped the bin Laden heir of his citizenship, via a royal proclamation.

Hamza bin Laden has been on the radar of U.S. counterterrorism officials since they found letters in Osama's Abbottabad, Pakistan, compound indicating that he was being groomed for a bigger role in al-Qaeda.

Relatively little is known about Hamza, however.

Authorities say he was born in 1986 or 1989, making him either 30 and 33 years old, and that he is the son of Osama's fifth wife, Khairiah, who trained as a child psychologist.

He grew up in al-Qaeda camps in Sudan and Afghanistan, and frequently appeared in the organization's propaganda videos, once pictured as a grinning young boy holding a piece of wreckage from a downed U.S. helicopter.

Following the 9/11 attacks, he and his siblings — Osama bin Laden is believed to have fathered between 20 and 26 children — were sent to Iran along with their mothers to avoid the inevitable Western reprisals. Hamza lived there in a sort of protective custody until 2009, when he and two of his brothers left to try and join al-Qaeda's jihad.

The eldest, Saad bin Laden, was killed by a drone strike in Afghanistan. The youngest brother, Khalid, was killed during the Abbottabad raid.  

Authorities know that Hamza and his father exchanged letters, but don't believe that they were ever reunited after 2001. And no one is quite sure of the bin Laden heir's whereabouts since he left Iran, with various reports putting him in Syria, Pakistan, or the tribal lands along the Afghanistan frontier.

A video of Hamza's wedding was among the 470,000 files recovered from Osama's compound in 2011. The footage was publicly released by the CIA in fall of 2017 and shows a mustachioed young man with a shy smile, but reveals no glimpse of his bride, initially believed to be the daughter of a "high-ranking" al-Qaeda figure.

A boy plays in front of Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in this May 5, 2011, photo, days after bin Laden was killed there by a U.S. Special Forces team. (Akhtar Soomro/Reuters)
A boy plays in front of Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in this May 5, 2011, photo, days after bin Laden was killed there by a U.S. Special Forces team. (Akhtar Soomro/Reuters)

Last summer, two of Osama bin Laden's half-brothers told Britain's Guardian newspaper that they believe that Hamza is married to the daughter of Mohammed Atta, the lead 9/11 hijacker. If true, it's a bit of surprise, given that Atta has frequently been portrayed as devout virgin who was terrified of women. But the U.S. government reward post repeats the claim.

Hamza was first introduced to the al-Qaeda faithful in 2015, hailed as a "lion" of the organization in an audio message from Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the man who has led the group since the elder bin Laden's death.

In the years since, Hamza had regularly posted speeches and videos, calling for attacks against Americans, Jews and Western targets, and making frequent appeals for Muslim youth to join the jihad. Al Qaeda appears to be trying to make him the fresh face of a rapidly aging terror movement that has been largely eclipsed by the rival Islamic State.

A screen grab from an undated handout video made available in 2018 by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) shows Hamza bin Laden, the son of late al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. (EPA-EFE)
A screen grab from an undated handout video made available in 2018 by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) shows Hamza bin Laden, the son of late al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. (EPA-EFE)

But Hamza doesn't seem to have much street cred beyond his last name, and has yet to be linked to any specific attack.

A year ago, the terror community's social media networks shared a letter he had written to his mother informing her that his own son, named Osama, had "ascended to the highest paradise of heaven," martyred in some unexplained fashion. Some media have reported that the boy was killed in an airstrike along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, but others maintain that he died of an illness.

And despite the $1 million US reward, there's reason to doubt that the Americans actually consider Hamza to be a true big fish.

The posted recompense for information leading to the death or capture of al-Zawahiri is $25 million.

Three other senior al-Qaeda figures, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, Sayf al-Adl, and Yasin al-Suri, all rate a $10 million bounty each.

And there are seven lower-ranking members of the group whose apprehension would net an informant between $3 million and $5 million.

Not that the money seems to be much of a motivator.

Osama bin Laden lived in hiding for a decade after 9/11 with a $25 million price on his head.

The reward was never paid out, as the Americans eventually found him via the art of deduction, and good luck.

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