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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 March 2019

Hamza bin Laden stripped of Saudi citizenship after $1m US reward

He suspected to be a likely successor to his deceased father Osama bin Laden

A screen grab from an undated handout video from the Central Intelligence Agency shows Hamza bin Laden, the son of late Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. EPA
A screen grab from an undated handout video from the Central Intelligence Agency shows Hamza bin Laden, the son of late Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. EPA

Saudi Arabia announced that it has revoked the citizenship of Hamza bin Laden, a day after the United States announced a $1 million (Dh3.67m) bounty, accusing him of becoming an increasingly important member of Al Qaeda.

The son of the late Osama Bin Laden, once the face of the global terror threat after Al Qaeda staged the September 11 attacks that killed 2,996 people in what is still the bloodiest terror incident on US soil, is thought to have followed his father’s footsteps in joining the group.

The kingdom gave no explanation for the royal decree, announced through an Interior Ministry circular, to strip Hamza bin Laden’s citizenship, which was signed in November.

The US on Thursday said it was offering the reward for information leading to capture as part of its “Rewards for Justice” programme. He was also added to the United Nations Security Council terrorism sanctions list.

A photograph circulated by the U.S. State Department’s Twitter account to announce a $1 million USD reward for al Qaeda key leader Hamza bin Laden, son of Osama bin Laden, is seen March 1, 2019. State Department/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
A photograph circulated by the US State Department’s Twitter account to announce a $1 million reward for Hamza bin Laden. State Department

Saudi Arabia stripped Osama bin Laden’s citizenship in 1994 while he was living in exile in Sudan. Hamza bin Laden was a child at the time. There is no information on his whereabouts.

"This is an example of history rhyming," said Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow at Foundation for Defence of Democracies and who studies Al Qaeda and the Islamic State group. "He's basically born right after Al Qaeda is founded, so his life is totally consumed in the establishment, the formation of Al Qaeda and the launching of its war against the West and America," he told AP.

Hamza bin Laden is believed to have been born in 1989, the year of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, where his father became known among the mujahideen fighters.

His father returned to Saudi Arabia and later fled to Sudan after criticising the kingdom for allowing US troops in the 1991 Gulf War. He later fled Sudan for Afghanistan in 1996, where he declared war against the US.

The Bin Ladens are a prominent and wealthy business dynasty in the Gulf and cut off ties with Osama, who masterminded the 9/11 attacks in the US.

In a rare interview last year, Osama’s mother Alia Ghanem said that her son had been radicalised as a young man.

“He was a very good child until he met some people who pretty much brainwashed him in his early 20s. You can call it a cult,” she told The Guardian, blaming the Muslim Brotherhood for his indoctrination.

As the leader of Al Qaeda, Osama organised deadly attacks against the US, including the 1998 bombings of the US embassy in Kenya and Tanzania as well as an attack on USS Cole off the Yemen coast.

After 9/11, the US invaded Afghanistan which was believed to be hosting the terror leader.

A decade later, US navy seals raided a quiet compound outside Abbottabad in Pakistan, and claimed the killing of Osama.

His father was reportedly worried for the safety of Hamza, who is now thought to be in his 30s, and he considered sending him away to study. But Mr Joscelyn said he “wanted to get into the fight” and instead went to a training camp in Pakistan to receive explosives training.

In a video released by the CIA in 2017, seized during the Abbottabad raid, shows Hamza at his wedding with a trimmed moustache but no beard. Previous images have only shown him as a child.

The State Department said in its announcement on Thursday that it believes he married the daughter of Mohammed Atta, the lead hijacker in the September 11 attacks.

Hamza began appearing in militant videos and recordings in 2015 as an Al Qaeda spokesman.

"If you think that your sinful crime that you committed in Abbottabad has passed without punishment, then you thought wrong," he said in his first audio recording.

In recent years, ISIS – which began as Al Qaeda in Iraq before breaking away from the terror group – has taken much of the international attention. However, Mr Joscelyn warned Al Qaeda remains a transnational threat, something that authorities may now pay more attention to as the ISIS withers away in Syria.

The UN Security Council committee in charge of Al Qaeda-related sanctions said on Thursday that the prominence of Hamza has grown in recent years, calling him "the most probable successor" to lead a potential new version of the terror group.

His addition to the sanctions list subjects him to a travel ban, asset freeze and arms embargo that all UN member states are obligated to enforce.

A UN report published last year suggested both he and Ayman Al Zawahiri, who took over Al Qaeda after the death of Osama, "are reported to be in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border areas."

"Al Qaeda's leadership demonstrates strategic patience and its regional affiliates exercise good tactical judgment, embedding themselves in local issues and becoming players," the UN report warned. "While there is as yet little evidence of a re-emerging direct global threat from Al Qaeda, improved leadership and enhanced communication will probably increase the threat over time."

Updated: March 3, 2019 12:20 PM

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