Al-Qaeda* founder Osama bin Laden is known to have fathered at least 20 children, but is also known to have favored Hamza, who was born in 1989 to his wife Khairiah Sabar. Khairiah was one of bin Laden's three wives at the Abbottabad compound in Pakistan where bin Laden senior was found and killed in May 2011 in a US special forces operation.
Valuing the religious fanaticism imbued in his son by his mother, bin Laden began using Hamza in al-Qaeda's propaganda videos at an early age. In one video, a 9-year-old Hamza could be seen reading poetry about the "eternal struggle with the infidels." After the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the boy posed against coalition aircraft downed by the Taliban.
But it would be in the mid-2010s, after his father's death and after Daesh (ISIS)* began taking over broad swathes of western Iraqi and eastern Syrian territory, that Hamza began what intelligence analysts suspect to be his rise to power in al-Qaeda's ranks to the right hand of the terrorist group's leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Hamza released his first audio message in 2015, calling on followers to wage jihad against Western capitals and Israel. In 2017, he released a video calling for improvised lone wolf attacks against Russians, Americans, Westerners and Jews alike.
Fear in Riyadh
But, according to intelligence experts, nowhere is concern with Hamza's rise greater than in Saudi Arabia, where the young bin Laden has called for a tribal revolt against the monarchy. Riyadh's recent efforts at moderate social reforms have further complicated the situation, with al-Qaeda taking advantage of conservative attitudes among some segments of Saudi society.
For his part, Alexei Makarkin, deputy director of the Center for Political Technologies and contributor at the Carnegie Moscow Center, told Sputnik that while Riyadh may indeed be faced with tribal rage at some point in the future, it's unclear whether tribal leaders will want to listen to the young bin Laden.
"Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the real head of the Kingdom, rules with a heavy hand; recently a large number of Saudi princes were arrested. These representatives of the Saud dynasty from the mother's side come from different tribes. Polygamy in the royal family was dictated by political considerations; the founder of the state, Abdul-Aziz ibn Saud, married women from many different tribes to strengthen the unity of the country. As a result, his grandsons and cousins each sympathize with their own tribe. The conflict between them threatens the stability of the state," Makarkin explained.
Earlier this year, Crown Prince bin Salman accused Riyadh's Iranian rivals of aiding and even harboring Hamza, a charge Iranian leaders dismissed as a "big lie."
In any case, Sputnik contributor Igor Gashkov stresses the importance of the fact that Hamza bin Laden's return to Middle Eastern geopolitics today coincides with the decline of Daesh, whose self-proclaimed "caliphate" has imploded in Syria and Iraq under the pressure of Syrian and Iraqi militaries and their Russian, Iranian and Western coalition allies.
"Daesh's disillusioned militants have scattered around the Muslim world, and many are obviously looking for a new leader. Under these conditions, al-Qaeda may gain an advantage over Daesh via a rapid change of leadership. It also cannot be excluded that the two groups will gradually merge," the observer warned.
* Terrorist groups outlawed in Russia.
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