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The ‘Crown Prince of Terror’ who could be King

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The image of Osama Bin Laden’s son, Hamza, as a tender teenager reading aloud a poem at his brother’s wedding, perhaps explains why he earned the title of Crown Prince of Terror.

“Accelerate the destruction of America, Britain, France and Denmark. Oh God, reward the fighters hitting the infidels and defectors. God, be pleased with those who want to go for jihad – and blind those who are watching and want to capture them,” the then 16-year-old read.

So when he was allegedly killed alongside his father in a compound in Abbottabad Pakistan on May 2, analysts said a major blow had been struck on terror in his demise. Except that he may have escaped.

Pakistan officials made the claim over a week after Osama’s death that perhaps the younger Bin Laden had escaped during the raid, saying they gleaned this information from his mother, Khairiah or Umm Hamza, is one of the three wives currently in Pakistan’s custody.

Even the Americans accepted that the son they thought they killed on May 2 was Khaled and not Hamza Bin Laden. But if Pakistan’s stance is to be believed—that Hamza escaped during a raid that was conducted with military precision—an even larger can of worms is left open.

As the topic is contested between both countries’ officials, with the US saying that it is virtually impossible for anyone to have escaped during the raid, a profile of the younger Bin Laden makes him appear as a doppelganger for his father when he was alive.

That Hamza was known as the Al Qaeda’s leader’s most militant son is well known but he was also reportedly the favored son too, having been born to Osama’s favorite wife.

He was born in Saudi Arabia in 1989 and what little we know, we know from his step brother Omar’s memoir, Growing Up Bin Laden. Omar is the son who famously renounced his father’s terrorist activities though after his death he questioned why the US had killed an unarmed man.

Nonetheless Omar’s insight into Hamza make for some gripping reading but also shed light on the terrorist prince’s abilities to lead Al Qaeda in the near future—even if it is something his father did not want his children to do after his death.

According to a report in Newsweek Pakistan, Omar Bin Laden narrates traveling to Afghanistan after his family left Sudan—well before Omar renounced terrorism. He remembers Hamza narrating a poem from the Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright. “What crime have we committed to be forced to leave our country?’ We will fight the kufr [infidels] forever!” he read to reported cheers from the wedding party.

Hamza himself is a fighter with scar wounds to show for having allegedly trained in a camp in Pakistan. At 14, he appeared in a video in which, according to Newsweek Pakistan, he is dressed in combat gear, speaking in Pashto, fighting Pakistani forces near the Afghan border.

This is not the first time he has been presumed dead. He was thought to have been captured in 2003 in Baluchistan, Pakistan but that claim was later denied.

His “danger credentials” also led him to be named by former Prime Minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto as a possible assassin.

If he is alive, at 21, he is not a possible successor to his father’s terror network but in a few years, if he continues to evades capture, he is a likely candidate given he has the lineage and battlefield cred. The one time leading contender for Al Qaeda’s successor, Ayman Al Zawahari, does not have the charm nor the fatigues to bind the terrorist group together.

And no country is feeling the brunt of Al Qaeda’s vengeance attacks than Pakistan which saw its naval base in Karachi suffer a massive blow in attacks on Sunday. A bomb blast on Wednesday ripped through a police station in Peshawar. They are unlikely to stop in the near future until a coherent strategy is adopted by the very military and intelligence agencies that have given sanctuary to terrorists—arguably even the Bin Ladens.

President Barak Obama made it clear in an interview recently that while he respects Pakistan’s sovereignty, he will order a similar strike if he has credible information on a high value target.

The question is whether Pakistan—in international spotlight, its credibility literally shot to smithereens--is going to continue to play the same double games of defending, protecting the “good Taliban” or will it aggressively pursue the case of Hamza Bin Laden, whose ideology threatens the country’s existence?

(Muna Khan, Editor of Al Arabiya, can be reached at muna.khan@mbc.net)