Is al-Qaeda looking to come back with Hamza bin Laden at helm?

Huda al-Husseini
Huda al-Husseini
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With the collapse of ISIS militia, its alleged state on the 16th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Hamza bin Laden emerges as the qualified person to reunite the extremist movements. He was one of the favorite sons for Osama bin Laden, the founder of al Qaeda, and the most supportive for the terrorist acts among his brothers.

According to a report published by the Counter Terrorism Center, Hamza is in his late 20s.. He was seven when Omar al-Bashir's regime in Sudan was subjected to Arab and international pressure and al-Qaeda was expelled from its territory, so Osama and his followers went to Afghanistan, where they were welcomed and provided with a safe shelter.

Soon it was apparent that Hamza was his father’s favorite son. He appeared in publicity videos alongside with his father, and hwas trained with al-Qaeda fighters and gave strong speeches. But his time with his father was nearing an end. After the September 11 attacks, and after the killing of the Afghani leader Ahmed Shah Masood, Bin Laden ordered his wives and youngest sons to leave Kandahar, since this headquarter had previously been attacked, and it would be attacked again after this operation. He asked them to go to Jalalabad, 350 kilometers north-east of Afghanistan.

In November 2001, on a hill south of Jalalabad, bin Laden bid goodbye to three of his young children, gave each of them a rosary and ordered them to preserve their faith. Then he went to the Tora Bora caves.

Hamza was one of the three children, and disappeared till he reappeared two years ago as the most likely to reunite the cracked movement, to lead al-Qaeda to a future which “will be more violent than the past,” according to the report.

As he headed for Tora Bora, Bin Laden ordered his family to travel eastward inside Pakistan's borders, as al-Qaeda were safe there. Activists such as Khalid al-Sheikh Mohammed (now held at Guantanamo), have lived long and freely in Karachi, and where Daniel Pearl, a Wall Street Journal reporter, was kidnapped and slaughtered.

But the September 11 attacks changed everthing. General Pervez Musharraf, the prime minister then, became an enthusiastic supporter of US efforts against al-Qaeda and Taliban.

Now, as ISIS continues to collapse, many of its followers will be looking for new paths to continue fighting. It should be noted that Hamza, in all his recent messages, as opposed to the other al-Qaeda leaders, did not criticize ISIS at all, and ISIS on its part has not criticized him as well.

Huda al-Husseini

Having a narrow range of risky choices, al-Qaeda, including the Bin Laden family, decided to leave Pakistan and seek refuge in Iran. Saif al-Adl, the former Egyptian soldier and the central figure in al-Qaeda was there, and out of fear that the organization would slip out of their fingers, the Iranian authorities began to set up a trap to force all the organization’s activists and their families to get inside Iran.

According to the Counter Terrorism Center report, Hamza and his mother have been held in a series of military facilities in the Tehran for years. In captivity, Hamza married the daughter of one of his teachers, the former military commander of al-Qaeda, Abu Muhammad al-Masri, and his wife gave birth to a son, and was named Osama, and a daughter, named Kaiyria.

But Hamza was still looking forward to follow his father’s path. In 2010, in return for the release of an Iranian diplomat from Pakistani tribes, Hamza, his family, his mother and his two brothers, Osman and Mohammad, were released and they left Iran and headed for Waziristan, where al-Qaeda groups live protected by armed Pakistani groups.

When the father knew that Hamza was released, he tried to send him to Qatar, on the grounds that it would be difficult for the US to request from Qatar to hand him over, as a 14year-old boy, but Mahmoud or Atiya Abdel Rahman, Bin Laden’s chief of staff, opposed the idea on the grounds that Qatar is a US ally and might hand over Hamza to the Americans.

Journey to Abbottabad

Osama was in Abbottabad (the place where he was killed). He ordered his sons Osman, Muhammad and Khaled to go to Peshawar and ordered Hamza to come to Abbottabad.

Mahmoud, the chief of staff, set the plan. In April 2011, Hamza and his family travelled south through Baluchistan. He has to endure a circular journey because it was safer than going to Abbottabad directly through the Khyber Pass.

In Baluchistan, Hamza had to meet Azmari, the Al-Qaeda confidante who would arrange the journey through Karachi, then by air or train to Peshawar, where Hamza would meet one of al-Qaeda men who will secure his arrival to Abbottabad. The plan was under way, but could not be executed as within weeks Osama bin Laden was killed.

On the global terror list

Hamza disappeared until August 2015, when Ayman al-Zawahri, (who was supposed to be the leader of the militia), sent a letter presenting ‘A Lion’ from the lion’s den - hinting about the name ‘Osama’ which means ‘Lion’.

Hamza then called on militants to take the battle from Kabul, Baghdad and Gaza to Washington, London, Paris and Tel Aviv.

Then other messages appeared in May, July and August 2016. Earlier, in January 2016, the US State Department had added Hamza on the list of global terrorists, to which he responded through two other letters in May 2016.

The report says, surprisingly Hamza asked his followers not to travel to the fields of war within the Islamic world but rather, wherever they are they should attack targets in the West and Russia: “I know that the imposing punishment on the Jews and the Crusaders has the most harmful and fierce impact on the enemies”.

In his May 2012 letter, he said: “Jerusalem is the bride and our blood is her dowry”. But this should not be taken as evidence that al-Qaeda was about to attack Israel. It should be noted that Osama bin Laden was skeptical about this issue, and admitted to his assistants that al-Qaeda’s rhetoric about Palestine was “nothing more than a fuss aimed at encouraging public support in the Arab world.”

Now, as ISIS continues to collapse, many of its followers will be looking for new paths to continue fighting. It should be noted that Hamza, in all his recent messages, as opposed to the other al-Qaeda leaders, did not criticize ISIS at all, and ISIS on its part has not criticized him as well.

There are many supporters of ISIS condemning the “al-Qaeda of al-Zawahiri,” but are impressed with Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda founder, which, according to the report, is the best proof that Hamza could be reuniting figure.

What helps Hamza is that al-Zawahri does not have charisma and is not liked by many militants, and ISIS is on top of them.

Call for more attacks

While al-Zawahri’s messages were mostly limited to verbal threats to the United States, if Hamza took over, the verbal threats might change, if we admitted that his messages were calling for more attacks inside the US territory.

Would Hamza’s future be the same as the report described and expected for him?

Would other militant followers pledge for him?

Would the country he resides in allow him to go beyond addressing messages?

Would the countries fighting terrorism, accept Hamza’s movement?

Would history repeats itself, and the son will repeat what the father did and thus meet the same end?

The report considers that Hamza is emerging, which should make the decision- makers in the West a well as in the Islamic world worried.

This article is also available in Arabic.

Huda al-Husseini is a political writer who focuses on Middle East geopolitics.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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