The State Department announced today that Osama bin Laden’s son, Hamza, has been added to the US government’s list of designated terrorists.
State cites Hamza’s appearances in al Qaeda’s propaganda since Aug. 2015 as evidence of his important role in the organization. The junior bin Laden has called for terror attacks throughout the West, including inside the US, and he also encouraged “Saudi Arabian-based tribes to unite with” Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) “to wage war against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
Al Qaeda has released several messages from Hamza since mid-2015, but they have all been audio speeches. The terror organization has not published photos or video of Hamza as an adult, likely for security reasons. The last known images of him are as a child.
Documents recovered in Osama bin Laden’s compound show that Osama was concerned about Hamza’s safety in the months leading up to the May 2011 Abbottabad raid. The al Qaeda master repeatedly discussed ways to prevent Hamza from falling into the hands of al Qaeda’s enemies. Osama wanted his son to avoid Waziristan, where the drones buzzed overhead, at all costs. And he suggested that Hamza flee to Qatar, where he could lie low for a time.
However, Hamza didn’t flee to Qatar. Instead, he was trained by Osama’s subordinates and groomed to rise up through al Qaeda’s ranks.
Atiyah Abd al Rahman, who served as al Qaeda’s general manger until his own death in Aug. 2011, ensured that Hamza was kept safe.
In a letter written in Apr. 2011, Rahman complained bitterly about being tasked with protecting Osama’s son.
Rahman indicated that Hamza was being trained by Abu Khalil al Sudani, a senior al Qaeda leader who was subsequently killed in Afghanistan. Hamza “has taken his family to our brother Abu Khalil’s house,” Rahman wrote just weeks before Osama’s death. “They have been there for a few days because I arranged for Abu Khalil to have Hamza take Abu Khalil’s explosive training.” Rahman was extra cautious: “I emphasized the need to be safe, to avoid going out, moving around, or doing anything that might expose him to danger. God grants success.”
Hamza did, in fact, survive. He avoided capture and also America’s drones. More than four years after Rahman’s letter, al Qaeda introduced Hamza as a key figure in its global organization.
Featured in Al Qaeda propaganda since 2015
Al Qaeda released the first audio message from Hamza in Aug. 2015. The junior bin Laden was introduced to al Qaeda’s audience by Ayman al Zawahiri, who described him as “a lion from the den of [al Qaeda].” [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Analysis: Osama bin Laden’s son praises al Qaeda’s branches in new message.]
Hamza’s debut was recorded sometime in May or June of 2015, before the Taliban admitted that its first emir, Mullah Omar, had died two years prior. Following in his father’s footsteps, Hamza swore allegiance to Omar, referring to him as the “Emir of the Believers,” a title usually reserved for a Muslim caliph. The message was odd, given that Hamza, like Zawahiri and the rest of al Qaeda previously, was affirming his loyalty to a corpse. Al Qaeda’s leaders, including Osama, first swore bayah (an oath of allegiance) to Mullah Omar before the Sept. 11, 2001 hijackings. Al Qaeda aggressively marketed its fealty to the Taliban’s emir after the rise of the Islamic State in 2014. The so-called caliphate tells its followers that Abu Bakr al Baghdadi is the true “Emir of the Believers.” Al Qaeda argues this isn’t so, pointing to the Taliban’s honcho as the only acceptable stand in for a true caliph.
In his Aug. 2015 message, Hamza went on to honor the leader of each of al Qaeda’s regional branches. Osama’s heir specifically mentioned Nasir al Wuhayshi, who led AQAP until he was killed in a US drone strike only weeks after Hamza’s message was recorded, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s Abdulmalek Droukdel, Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent’s (AQIS) Asim Umar, Shabaab’s Abu Obaidah Ahmed Omar, and Al Nusrah Front’s Abu Muhammad al Julani.
Hamza did not mention Baghdadi or the Islamic State by name, but he clearly had the so-called caliphate’s men in mind when he addressed Julani, whom he described as the “bold commander.” Julani was originally Baghdadi’s lieutenant, but broke from Baghdadi to form his own al Qaeda branch in Syria under Zawahiri’s command. Al Nusrah is now known as Jabhat Fath al Sham. “We thank your jihad, your firmness, and your great, unique sacrifices through which you have revived the feats of the ancestors of Islam,” Hamza said to Julani, according to a translation by SITE Intelligence Group.
Al Qaeda has released several messages from Hamza since his first.
In May 2016, Hamza released a discussion titled, “Jerusalem Is But a Bride, Its Dowry Is Our Blood.” In it, Hamza argued that the jihad in Syria was the key to achieving victory in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hamza called on the ummah (worldwide community of Muslims) to raise a “large army,” drawing in “experts” who can wage war on Israel.
The “best preparation field” for raising this great army is in “the blessed Levant,” Hamza said. The “path to liberate Palestine is far closer today,” he claimed, because of the “Syrian revolution.” Therefore, the “Islamic ummah” must focus its efforts on the “jihad in the Levant, guiding and directing it,” spreading awareness of sharia, and “uniting the mujahideen’s ranks there.” [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Osama bin Laden’s son says jihad in Syria key to ‘liberate Palestine’.]
In July 2016, al Qaeda released another speech from Hamza in which he argued that the number of “mujahideen” around the globe has grown despite a decade and a half of war. Hamza also threatened revenge for the death of his father, claiming that America has not yet witnessed al Qaeda’s retaliation. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Osama bin Laden’s son says al Qaeda has grown despite 15 years of war.]
Hamza’s July 2016 message was titled, “We Are All Osama.” The same phrase was chanted during the al Qaeda-inspired protests at American diplomatic establishments in Cairo, Tunis, Sanaa, and elsewhere in September 2012. The cover of the tenth issue of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s Inspire magazine focused on this theme, celebrating the US Embassy protests and assaults. Footage from these rallies was also included in Hamza’s first official al Qaeda message in Aug. 2015.
Then, in Aug. 2016, al Qaeda released Hamza’s lengthy critique of the Saudi regime. He called for regime change in Saudi Arabia and blamed the government for interfering in AQAP’s jihad in Yemen. [See FDD’s Long War Journal, Hamza bin Laden calls for regime change in Saudi Arabia.]
Hamza’s earliest appearances in al Qaeda’s propaganda were paired with messages from Ayman al Zawahiri, the successor to Osama as head of al Qaeda. The terror and insurgency organization undoubtedly thinks it is advantageous to use the bin Laden brand name in its jihadi marketing.