The son of Osama, Hamza bin Laden is global jihad’s new star. Not only is he perceived as his father’s natural heir, but he is also a future key player in and potentially the next leader of jihadism.
Hamza, Osama’s favorite son, first appeared in al-Qaeda propaganda alongside his father when he was a child. He studied religion and military tactics with senior AQ figures. He was designated heir apparent at a young age.
Osama was killed on May 2, 2011 together with Hamza’s brother Khaled. Hamza was not at the compound when it was stormed by U.S. Navy Seals that day.
Since then, Hamza has been off the grid. He resurfaced in August 2015 when AQ’s current leader Ayman al-Zawahiri introduced him as Osama’s son and the torchbearer of his father’s legacy.
Hamza has since published audio (not video) statements once every few months – in May, July and August of 2016 and twice in May and in November 2017.
He supports the Islamists fighting against Assad and the Syrian regime and calls for regime change in Saudi Arabia and jihad against the West (and arguably more vociferously than other jihadist leaders).
First and foremost, he urges attacks on the United States in retaliation for his father’s murder.
Until a few weeks ago, the only images of Hamza seen in the West were from his childhood. The CIA just made public photos of him as an adult. He is believed to be around 28 years old.
Al-Qaeda is riding on a wave right now with the demise of its rival ISIS. The demise of ISIS’ caliphate in Iraq and Syria brings new opportunities for AQ.
Within al-Qaeda, Hamza is perceived as being far more in line with the philosophy of his father than is al-Zawahiri and enjoys the support of senior figures in AQ. Al-Zawahiri never garnered a particularly strong following in the world jihadi movement or even within AQ itself.
The tensions between AQ and ISIS seem to have passed over Hamza. As a result, he is much more attractive as a jihadi leader as far as ISIS members are concerned. (ISIS was highly critical of AQ in general but al-Zawahiri in particular.)
ISIS has never publicly criticized Hamza. This could be either a sign of respect or because he was perceived as being young and lacking in influence.
Similarly, as opposed to other AQ officials, Hamza never condemned ISIS.
In January 2017, the U.S. designated Hamza as a wanted terrorist. That means his movements will be restricted, and it will be much more difficult for him to conduct financial transactions. However, one can assume that growing up with his father, Hamza already has a good handle on the art of evasion and making himself invisible.
We will most likely hear much more about Hamza in the near future. Many ex-ISIS fighters will clamor to join him, and many others will look to him to be the figurehead of global jihad. This will only boost his confidence and determination to act on the international arena.
Simultaneously, with the demise of ISIS, al-Qaeda will be poised to seize the reins of global jihad.