Son of Al Qaeda Founder Is Dead

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The United States had a role in the operation that killed Hamza bin Laden, officials said. But other details, including where he died, remained unknown.

Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza bin Laden, who was viewed as an eventual heir to the leadership of Al Qaeda and had repeatedly threatened to attack the United States, is dead, according to two American officials.

Details of the strike that killed him were scarce, including when and where. The United States government played a role in the operation, but it was not clear how, according to the officials, who discussed his death on the condition of anonymity because it involved sensitive operations and intelligence gathering.

Mr. bin Laden was killed sometime during the first two years of the Trump administration, officials said. He was killed before the State Department announced a $1 million reward for information about his whereabouts in February, but American military and intelligence agencies had not confirmed his death by then.

Though Mr. bin Laden carried a prominent name and lineage, the news of his death represented more of a symbolic victory for the American government than the removal of a threat. Al Qaeda has not carried out a large-scale attack in years, and though Mr. bin Laden was being groomed to eventually take over the group, that time appeared to be well into the future.

Ali Soufan, a former F.B.I. agent who investigated and has written extensively about Al Qaeda, including a lengthy profile of Hamza bin Laden published in 2017, sounded a note of caution because it is unusual for Al Qaeda not to announce the death of a leader and celebrate him as a martyr. But if the American government’s assessment is accurate, he said, “it significantly damages Al Qaeda’s plans for moving to the second generation.”

Unlike other Qaeda leaders, Mr. bin Laden never criticized the Islamic State in his public speeches, Mr. Soufan noted. The tactic suggests that he was holding back so members of the Islamic State, which began as a Qaeda affiliate and shares its ideology but broke away from its control, might have eventually accepted him as leader in any future reunification.

After the 2011 death of Osama bin Laden in a SEAL Team 6 raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, two of his top lieutenants began preparing Hamza bin Laden for a top leadership role. He married a daughter of one of them and pledged to avenge his father’s death. Mr. bin Laden was introduced as a voice of Al Qaeda in August 2015 as “a young lion to carry forth the cause.” The regular messages that Al Qaeda released from Mr. bin Laden stopped months ago, although an article attributed to him was published in May.

Al Qaeda distributed a letter in December 2017, dated from the previous summer, in which Hamza bin Laden said his 12-year-old son had been killed, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks terrorist organizations. The letter did not talk about the circumstances of the death, but made reference to martyrdom, suggesting the boy may have been killed in a strike targeting his father.


Son of Qaeda Founder Is Dead
 
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