European Eye on Radicalization (EER) has often analyzed the relevance of kinship in terrorist networks. Osama Bin Laden can be regarded as the terrorist patriarch par excellence. Out of his 23 children, 14 were sons, and quite a number of them continued the family participation in terrorism, such as Saad bin Laden, who was killed in a drone strike in Pakistan in 2009, and Khalid, who was killed with his father at Abbottabad in 2011.
It is Hamza bin Laden, however, one of Osama’s favorite sons, who has always been among the most consistently fervent of his siblings in his support for violent jihad. After being groomed for jihadist work by his father, and Osama’s successor as al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, Hamza was introduced to the world in August 2015 with his first speech.
Thereafter, Hamza became a regular spokesman for al-Qaida. In July 2016, Hamza called for revenge over his father’s death:
“If you think that your sinful crime that you committed in Abbottabad has passed without punishment, then you thought wrong.”
One year later he was named a Specially Designated Global Terrorist by the US State Department.
In 2018 it was reported that Hamza had married the daughter of lead 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta, thus further demonstrating the relevance of kinship to terrorist organizations.
Hamza will, or has, turned 30 this year. Despite this relative youth, he is being prepared for a leadership role in the organization his father founded, which will probably manifest as al-Qaida puts in place its future plans, most likely including a reorganization of the international jihadi movement, after the collapse of the Islamic State.
A few days ago, Saudi Arabia announced that it has revoked the citizenship of Hamza, a day after the United States announced a $1 million (Dh3.67m) bounty, accusing him of becoming an increasingly primary member of al-Qaida. The kingdom announced the royal decree through an Interior Ministry circular which was in fact signed in November.
The UN Security Council committee in charge of al-Qaida-related sanctions said on Thursday that the prominence of Hamza has grown in recent years, calling him “the most probable successor” to al-Zawahiri as al-Qaida moves into its next phase. The sanctions imposed on Hamza include a travel ban, asset freeze, and arms embargo that all UN member states are obligated to enforce.
Historically, al-Qaida has always been characterized by significantly different features from those of the Islamic State. As against the impetuous, Hollywood-style propaganda of the Caliphate, al-Qaida offers lengthier, if less attractive, output and relative ideological sophistication. As opposed to the Islamic State’s spectacular proclamation of the Caliphate, al-Qaida prefers a more long-term, reflexive posture.
In spite of the lack of theological and doctrinal knowledge of the Islamic State’s rank-and-file, however, the group has been able to attract unprecedented numbers of fighters and sympathizers, creating and maintaining the kind of appeal that al-Qaida has struggled to maintain. With the destruction of the Caliphate appearing to vindicate al-Qaida, that could not change.
In order to get some of that appeal back, al-Qaida could now play the continuity card, centralizing the leadership in the image of Hamza bin Laden, son of the heroic founder who had also the charisma that al-Zawahiri so evidently lacks. In so doing, the future of al-Qaida would imply a return to its glorious past, a narrative that has always been widely exploited by jihadists worldwide.