New face of terror? Could Osama's son be the future leader of al-Qaeda?
The younger Bin Laden appears in audio message calling on all Syrian jihadist groups to unite and 'liberate Palestine'
Osama bin Laden’s son and heir apparent has resurfaced in an audio message after many months of silence, prompting renewed speculation over the leadership of al-Qaeda.
Hamza bin Laden, understood to be 23 or 24 years old, was not found among the bodies after the 2011 CIA raid on the compound in Pakistan housing the world’s most-wanted terrorist.
His whereabouts now are unknown, but some experts believe he is being carefully stage-managed by al-Qaeda’s leadership to one day take over his father’s role.
In the undated message, released by the militant group’s media wing, the younger Bin Laden calls on all the jihadist groups of Syria to unite and use the country’s conflict as a springboard to “liberate Palestine”.
His message echoes another released one day before from the current leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who appeared to praise the work of the group’s affiliate in Syria – Jabhat al-Nusra.
Both call for unity among the warring Islamist groups of Syria, despite the al-Qaeda offshoot’s ideological clashes with Isis, its more media-savvy rival.
According to the Site Intelligence monitoring group, Bin Laden’s message largely focusses on Israel, who alongside the US represented al-Qaeda’s favoured target under Osama.
He said the “blessed Syrian revolution” had made the prospect of “liberating” Jerusalem more likely.
“The Islamic umma (nation) should focus on jihad in al-Sham (Syria)… and unite the ranks of mujahedeen,” he said. “There is no longer an excuse for those who insist on division and disputes now that the whole world has mobilised against Muslims.”
The younger Bin Laden issued his only other public message in a similar fashion in August 2015, in which he called for attacks against international enemies from the US to France and Britain.
Then, Site Intelligence’s director Rita Katz said he was being projected “as a future leader: someone loved and inspirational, without a negative reputation or participation in infighting”.
For now, however, Bin Laden has shown none of the operational or intellectual acumen that would make him a viable replacement for Zawahiri, despite the current leader’s perceived lack of charisma.
Dr Andreas Krieg, an analyst at King’s College in London, said the release of the message appeared part of a concerted effort “not to appear too quiet” next to their Isis rivals.
“Although his father still has a prominent role in jihadist circles as a mastermind, godfather and inspiration, Hamza has not yet done anything of prominence, he said.
“I think Hamza is following Al Zawahiri knowing that he cannot emerge from his shadow just yet – if ever.
“Being the son of Osama Bin Laden alone does not provide you with kudos in a community of jihadists in which some have been fighting for three decades.”
In his own audio message, posted online at the weekend, Zawahiri said the matter of unity in Syria was “one of life and death” for jihadist groups.
He said: “Either you unite to live as Muslims with dignity, or you bicker and separate and so are eaten one by one.”