Osama Bin Laden’s son Hamza appears positioned to step into his father’s shoes as leader of the international terrorist organization al-Qaeda, years after his father’s violent death. Letters he wrote to his father years ago when he was 22-years-old reveal that Hamza was seen, long before his father’s death, as the likely next leader of the organization worldwide. He was widely recognized since he was a child as bin Laden’s favorite son.
Hamza’s personal letters to his father were seized in the May 2, 2011 U.S. Navy SEAL Team Six raid on a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in which Osama bin Laden was killed. Hamza’s letters were part of a cache that included letters written to bin Laden by family members and senior associates after he went into hiding.
Hamza’s letters revealed that he was an ambitious young man dedicated to his father who wanted to follow in his jihadi footsteps.
In an interview with Holly Williams on CBS’ 60 Minutes, to be aired on Sunday, May 14, at 7 p.m. ET, the former FBI agent Ali Soufan, who led the bureau’s investigation of al Qaeda after the September 11, 2001 attacks, said that Hamza, now 28, appears poised to assume leadership of al-Qaeda’s international terrorist network which has grown even stronger and larger since his father died. Hamza is motivated strongly by a desire to avenge his father’s death, Soufan said.
In the recently declassified letter that Hamza wrote to this father, he tells his father that he remembers “every look… every smile you gave me, every word you told me.”
“I consider myself to be forged in steel. The path of jihad for the sake of God is what we live.”
Soufan pointed out that Hamza had not seen his father for several years when he wrote the letter. But six years after his father’s death, Hamza’s message appears focused primarily on avenging his father and attacking the West in retaliation for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has issued several threats of terrorist attacks against the West. In some of the videos, Hamza is shown calling for terror attacks against major Western cities, such as London, Washington, and Paris.
“He’s basically saying, ‘American people, we’re coming and you’re going to feel it.’ The whole thing was about vengeance,” Soufan told Williams on 60 Minutes.
“We’re going to take revenge for what you did to my father… Iraq… Afghanistan…”
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Al-Qaeda under Osama bin Laden had groomed Hamza for leadership since he was a boy. The expectation that Hamza would one day become the head of al-Qaeda worldwide is reflected in a letter from his mother in which she urged the young man to “follow in his father’s footsteps.”
Hamza appeared in several al-Qaeda propaganda videos as a child, brandishing a gun and threatening violence and retribution against the West.
“He was a poster kid for the al Qaeda… and for members of al Qaeda, who were indoctrinated with these propaganda videos, he means a lot to them,” Soufan said.
U.S. intelligence agencies have also recognized Hamza as the potential next leader of al Qaeda. In January, the U.S. State Department placed him on its terror watch list and named him as a “specially designated global terrorist,” just like his father before he was killed.
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Soufan noted just how much Hamza’s rhetoric sounds like Osama bin Laden’s.
“His recent message that came out, he delivered the speech as if it’s his father… using sentences, terminology that was used by Osama bin Laden,” Soufan said.
Hamza has reportedly recorded four major audio messages in the last two years and has been active with efforts to reinvigorate and reunite the international jihadi movement. Osama bin Laden’s death only provided al-Qaeda worldwide with a saintly martyr figure that could be exploited to recruit more followers. Since bin Laden died, al-Qaeda has strengthened its presence in several countries and expanded into new territories, the Daily Mail noted. The Arab Spring revolts helped al Qaeda to gain a stronger and more stable foothold in many Arab and Muslim countries because it created a power vacuum that the group moved promptly to fill.
For instance, al-Qaeda is believed to have more than 20,000 followers in Syria who control several towns and villages. Some of the groups are keeping a low profile, refusing to identify openly with al-Qaeda as part of a strategy to escape attention and gain support among local populations.
“Al Qaeda is stronger than ever,” Soufan concluded.
“I don’t believe even bin Laden in his wildest dreams thought that he will have followers who command armies, troops [and] lands.”
[Featured Image by Mazhar Ali Khan/AP Images]