Hamza bin Laden, a son and heir to the infamous terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, has big plans for the future, including overthrowing the Saudi monarchy, capturing Islamic holy cities and taking revenge on the West for his father’s death. Speaking to Sputnik, Russian counterterrorism experts outline the dangers posed by the young jihadist.
Al-Qaeda* founder Osama bin Laden is known to have fathered at least 20 children, but is also known to have favored Hamza, who was born in 1989 to his wife Khairiah Sabar. Khairiah was one of bin Laden’s three wives at the Abbottabad compound in Pakistan where bin Laden senior was found and killed in May 2011 in a US special forces operation.
Valuing the religious fanaticism imbued in his son by his mother, bin Laden began using Hamza in al-Qaeda’s propaganda videos at an early age. In one video, a 9-year-old Hamza could be seen reading poetry about the “eternal struggle with the infidels.” After the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the boy posed against coalition aircraft downed by the Taliban.
But it would be in the mid-2010s, after his father’s death and after Daesh (ISIS)* began taking over broad swathes of western Iraqi and eastern Syrian territory, that Hamza began what intelligence analysts suspect to be his rise to power in al-Qaeda’s ranks to the right hand of the terrorist group’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Hamza released his first audio message in 2015, calling on followers to wage jihad against Western capitals and Israel. In 2017, he released a video calling for improvised lone wolf attacks against Russians, Americans, Westerners and Jews alike.
But, according to intelligence experts, nowhere is concern with Hamza’s rise greater than in Saudi Arabia, where the young bin Laden has called for a tribal revolt against the monarchy. Riyadh’s recent efforts at moderate social reforms have further complicated the situation, with al-Qaeda taking advantage of conservative attitudes among some segments of Saudi society.
Speaking to Sputnik, Grigory Kosach, professor of Middle East studies at the Russian State University for the Humanities, pointed out that anytime Hamza bin Laden is mentioned in Saudi Arabia, it is always stressed that he is a terrorist and Saudi only by birth, not by citizenship, having been stripped of the latter in 2016 amid repeated denunciations of the monarchy. According to the expert, given the importance of the tribal structure and mentality of Saudi society, the al-Qaeda leader’s calls for an uprising against the monarchy, as dangerous as it is, is not without significance for Riyadh.
For his part, Alexei Makarkin, deputy director of the Center for Political Technologies and contributor at the Carnegie Moscow Center, told Sputnik that while Riyadh may indeed be faced with tribal rage at some point in the future, it’s unclear whether tribal leaders will want to listen to the young bin Laden.
“Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the real head of the Kingdom, rules with a heavy hand; recently a large number of Saudi princes were arrested. These representatives of the Saud dynasty from the mother’s side come from different tribes. Polygamy in the royal family was dictated by political considerations; the founder of the state, Abdul-Aziz ibn Saud, married women from many different tribes to strengthen the unity of the country. As a result, his grandsons and cousins each sympathize with their own tribe. The conflict between them threatens the stability of the state,” Makarkin explained.
Earlier this year, Crown Prince bin Salman accused Riyadh’s Iranian rivals of aiding and even harboring Hamza, a charge Iranian leaders dismissed as a “big lie.”
In any case, Sputnik contributor Igor Gashkov stresses the importance of the fact that Hamza bin Laden’s return to Middle Eastern geopolitics today coincides with the decline of Daesh, whose self-proclaimed “caliphate” has imploded in Syria and Iraq under the pressure of Syrian and Iraqi militaries and their Russian, Iranian and Western coalition allies.
“Daesh’s disillusioned militants have scattered around the Muslim world, and many are obviously looking for a new leader. Under these conditions, al-Qaeda may gain an advantage over Daesh via a rapid change of leadership. It also cannot be excluded that the two groups will gradually merge,” the observer warned.
If that occurs, Gashkov noted, Hamza bin Laden “will be able to become a figure symbolizing continuity in the ranks of the jihadists. A precedent exists in Middle Eastern politics with Muqtada al-Sadr, son of the Shiite ayatollah Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadar; Muqtada organized uprisings against the US in the 2000s, and in 2018 made a triumphant return to politics in Iraq’s elections. Whether or not the younger bin Laden will be able to gather the supporters of his father is something only time will tell,” the analyst concluded.