Letters reportedly written by Osama bin Laden and seized from the compound where he was killed indicated he’d been grooming his son to replace him as the leader of al-Qaeda

By Rachel DeSantis and Susan Keating
August 01, 2019 09:26 AM
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Hamza bin Laden, one of Osama bin Laden‘s sons and a rising leader of the terror network al-Qaeda, has been killed, NBC News and The New York Times reported on Wednesday, citing U.S. officials.

“Our best information is that Hamza bin Laden is dead,” an American government source tells PEOPLE.

This source did not discuss how or where Hamza died.

He was killed in a strike sometime in 2017 or 2018 though it took longer to confirm, according to the Times. The U.S. had some involvement, the Times reported, but the extent was not publicly known.

President Donald Trump declined to comment when asked about Hamza by reporters on Wednesday.

Hamza — born in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in 1989 — was announced as an official al-Qaeda member in 2015 in an audio message that called for followers to launch attacks against the U.S. and its Western allies, according to the State Department.

He was described that year by the group as “a young lion to carry forth the cause,” according to the Times. “Many terrorism experts regard [Hamza] as the crown prince of al-Qaeda’s global network,” the Washington Post reported in 2017.

He continued to rise up the ranks of the terrorist organization previously led by his father and in 2017 was marked a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, meaning all of his U.S.-based assets were frozen and Americans were barred from engaging in transactions with him.

The State Department’s Rewards for Justice Program announced a $1 million reward in February for information leading to the identification or location of Hamza, who was referred to then as an emerging “key leader” of al-Qaeda.

Authorities believed Hamza was around the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and might possibly go to Iran, Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security Michael Evanoff said in February.

Osama bin Laden
| Credit: Getty

“They were building him up to potentially be the No. 1 someday; he was not thought of as the heir apparent today,” one expert told the Times this week.

Said another: “This hurts the al-Qaeda brand. Even though he was unproven and untested, that name still means a lot to young jihadis.”

Hamza’s father was killed by a U.S. military special operations unit in Pakistan in May 2011.

Osama’s death came nearly a decade after al-Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people in a series of attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, that targeted New York City’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Letters reportedly written by Osama and seized from the compound where he was killed indicated he’d been grooming his son to replace him as the leader of the terrorist organization, Evanoff said in February.

At the time, the State Department made note of multiple instances in which Hamza issued messages that threatened violence against Americans, including a 2016 audio recording that said attacks would be revenge for his father’s death.

Other messages called on tribes based in Saudi Arabia to join forces with al-Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate to wage war against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Ayman al-Zawahiri took over al-Qaeda after Osama, though the group’s threat has been drastically reduced since 2001 from intense American retaliation.