Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 16 October 2019

Hamza bin Laden's death is symbolic but will not end Al Qaeda threat

The death of the heir apparent to Al Qaeda will reassure the American public that the bin Laden lineage is eliminated, experts say

 A screen grab from an undated handout video made available by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) shows Hamza bin Laden, the son of late Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, Issued 31 July 2019. EPA
 A screen grab from an undated handout video made available by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) shows Hamza bin Laden, the son of late Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, Issued 31 July 2019. EPA

The death of Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza, chosen heir of Al Qaeda, is symbolic but will not have an impact on the terror group’s operations, experts have said.

Washington said it has evidence suggesting that Hamza is no longer alive but did not provide details surrounding the circumstances that led to his death. A State Department official told The National that they “do not comment on intelligence matters”.

Hamza released audio and video messages vowing revenge for his father's death and calling for attacks on the US, Russia, Europe and Saudi Arabia. The last statement was in 2018.

Thought to be 30, Hamza was designated a global terrorist by the US two years ago. He was widely seen as a successor to his father, Osama bin Laden.

He could have become a figurehead, said Michael Stephens, a research fellow for Middle East studies at RUSI think tank in London.

“Hamza bin Laden was not a central figure in Al Qaeda, he had a lot of media attention on him, he could have become extremely influential given his lineage, and given time,” Mr Stephens said.

“I think a lot of it is symbolic, but it is symbolic in a way that makes it look like the US is still on top of trying to deal with Al Qaeda,” he said.

The US government offered $1 million (Dh3.7m) for information leading to his capture last February.

President Donald Trump declined to comment on the development when questioned by reports on Wednesday, as did the White House national security adviser, John Bolton.

There was no immediate confirmation of his death from Al Qaeda.

In 2011, US special forces killed his father, Osama, in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Osama had approved the attacks on the US on 11 September 2001, in which nearly 3,000 people were killed.

The death of his son will not spell the end of the organisation that conducted the world’s most notorious terror attacks.

But the death of Hamza could cause future issues for the succession of Al Qaeda's current leader Ayman Al Zawahiri when he dies, said independent analyst Aymenn Jawad Al Tamimi.

“His death was more than a symbolic element than something significant as he was not a vital figure in the group,” Mr Al Tamimi said.

Extremist groups that have allegiance to Al Qaeda in Syria never really spoke about him, said the analyst.

“In Syria, Al Qaeda is in a much weaker position than Hayat Tahrir Al Shams [Syria’s strongest and largest militant group], so his death does not change the amount of impact they have in the country,” Mr Al Tamimi said.

Al Qaeda’s strategy has changed in recent years, focusing more on localised extremism rather than being “this big globalised jihad that Osama bin Laden supported”, Mr Stephens said.

Updated: August 25, 2019 06:04 PM

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