The United States killed his father. Now they’re offering a $1 million reward for information on the son of Osama bin Laden, who they say is an emerging al Qaeda leader.
The State Department's Counter-Terrorism Rewards Program posted the reward for information on the whereabouts of Hamza bin Laden late Thursday.
It said Hamza, aged in his early 30s, has released audio and video messages online calling on followers to launch attacks on the U.S. and Western allies, and threatening attacks against the U.S. to avenge the death of his father in May 2011.
Official said the younger bin Laden, one of at least 20 children believed to have been fathered by the al Qaeda leader, was most likely in hiding around the Afghan-Pakistan border. He is also suspected of having crossed into Iran, where he and his family were based in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, living under house arrest at times.
“He could be anywhere though in ... south central Asia,” Michael Evanoff, Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, said at a press briefing.
The State Department said that correspondence seized from the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where bin Laden was killed by U.S. Navy Seals suggested that the al Qaeda leader had been grooming Hamza as a future leader of his organization.
It said Hamza, who was born in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in either 1986 or 1989, had married the daughter of Mohammed Atta, the lead hijacker in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.
Since 2015, al Qaeda’s propaganda arm As Sahab has promoted Hamza as a key figure in the movement, releasing audio messages of him issuing new threats, boasts and guidance to followers worldwide. But it has avoided releasing images of him as an adult; on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in 2017, it instead superimposed a picture of him as a child over an image of the burning World Trade Center towers.
The first publicly available images of Hamza as an adult were released in 2017, when the CIA distributed a video of his wedding day in Iran. The same year, the U.S. designated him as a global terrorist.
According to an analysis of the Abbottabad letters by conservative think tank the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Osama bin Laden was worried about his son’s safety and initially encouraged him to study in Qatar rather than join the movement. When his son insisted on joining the terror group’s jihad, he was given explosives training in Pakistan.
Last week the United Nations Security Council added Hamza bin Laden to its sanctions list, placing him under an assets freeze and travel ban. On Friday, Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry said that it had stripped Hamza bin Laden of his citizenship.
While al Qaeda’s standing in the jihadist world has been eclipsed by ISIS in recent years, which has managed to gain more attention and recruits, and carry out more attacks, U.S. officials said the group was continuing to regroup and plot attacks.
"Al Qaeda during this period has been relatively quiet, but that is a strategic pause, not a surrender," said Nathan Sales, US Co-ordinator for Counter-terrorism.
"Today's al Qaeda is not stagnant. It's rebuilding and it continues to threaten the United States and its allies.”
Cover image: Hamza bin Laden, son of Osama, is following in his father's footsteps and has become an increasingly prominent figure in al Qaeda propaganda. (Handout image from the U.S. State Department)