WASHINGTON – Hamza bin Laden, the son of al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden and a rising figure in his late father’s violent Islamist group, is believed to have died, United States officials said Wednesday.
The date, location and other circumstances surrounding the death weren’t immediately clear, but communication among militants suggests he had been killed, the officials said.
President Donald Trump and top administration officials didn’t immediately confirm the reports of the death.
“I don’t want to comment on it,” Trump told reporters earlier in the day at the White House when asked about the reports.
One US official said that there had not been any public statements attributed to Hamza bin Laden since 2018. His death appears to have taken place some time ago – details are uncertain – but only confirmed by US intelligence agencies in recent weeks.
His death was first reported by NBC News.
US officials had become increasingly concerned in recent years about Hamza bin Laden’s repeated threats and calls for attacks on Americans at home and abroad as well as against US allies.
US government and private analysts say that al-Qaeda is much weaker than it was in its heyday, and less potent than its ideological rival Islamic State. But, they say, al-Qaeda is still capable of inspiring terrorist attacks and has several lethal affiliates worldwide.
In its base in South Asia, al-Qaeda’s “core has been seriously degraded. The death or arrest of dozens of mid- and senior-level AQ operatives ... has disrupted communication, financial support, facilitation nodes, and a number of terrorist plots,” the US State Department said in its most recent report on terrorism in 2017.
“AQ, however, remains a focal point of ‘inspiration’ for a world-wide network of affiliated groups,” it added.
Earlier this year, the State Department offered a reward of up to $1 million for information about him, and Saudi Arabia revoked his citizenship.
Those moves followed the State Department’s imposition of sanctions against him in 2017, saying at the time that he was actively engaged in terrorism.
Hamza bin Laden was believed to have been born in 1989 in Saudi Arabia and was the only known son of Osama bin Laden who was still aligned with the terrorist group behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Another son was killed along with his father in 2011 during a Navy SEAL raid on their compound in Pakistan. A third son has distanced himself from al-Qaeda.
Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri declared Hamza bin Laden an official member of the group in 2015, and the State Department has said that he had married the daughter of Mohamed Atta, the lead hijacker in the Sept. 11 attacks.
Terrorism experts have warned of his rising profile in al-Qaeda and of his potential influence on global jihadist movements.
“While I doubt Hamza was/is next in line in al-Qaeda’s succession, he was clearly groomed for a leadership position,” Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank, wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.