His name alone is enough to guarantee headlines and the attention of the world’s security services. Though only about 25 years old, his words are urgently picked over by analysts and officials seeking to understand the new threat posed to the west by Islamist militancy. He is Hamza bin Laden, the son and “heir apparent” of his father, Osama, the late founder and leader of al-Qaida.
Ten days before the bombing in Manchester last week, Hamza’s voice was heard on a
“Be perfect in your choice of targets, so that you may damage your enemies more,” he said in the 10-minute tape released in English and Arabic.
Terrorists see reason in madness of targeting public events | Jason Burke
Investigators have established no link between the worst terrorist attack in the UK for 12 years and al-Qaida. The bombing, carried out by a 23-year-old born of Libyan parents in the UK, has been claimed by Isis in Iraq and .
has been overshadowed by Isis in recent years so there are concerns it will use Hamza bin Laden to spearhead a comeback.
“From al-Qaida’s perspective, now is the critical time for him to come of age and assume the reins of authority,” Bruce Hoffman, a highly respected US-based terrorism expert and director of Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies, .
Others doubt that Hamza has the experience or the ability to play such a role.
Adrian Levy,, said: “Hamza carries the name and the ‘We are Osama strapline’ but that’s about it. He is and can only be a figurehead, fronting for the military and broader strategic forces headed by others who are more experienced, better connected and more capable.”
Instead, it appears that power within al-Qaida has shifted to two key figures: who leads its affiliate in Syria, and , a 55-year-old survivor of the first generation of Islamic militants who was indicted for his role in the bombing of US embassies in east Africa in 1998.
Al-Adel, who was detained in Iran from about 2002 until last year when he was released to travel to Syria, was described by one western official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, as “one of the most capable and dangerous [violent extremist] active today”.
The new media profile of Hamza bin Laden, who was officially designated a “global terrorist” by the US earlier this year, suits both men.
Osama bin Laden’s family on the run: ‘I never stopped praying our lives might return to normal’
“Al-Adel has kept extremely quiet. His pedigree and experience [as a militant] are extraordinary …. He’s a very strategic thinker but he does not like public appearances,” said Levy.
Al-Golani, who has become one of the most significant actors in the Syrian civil war, has only given occasional interviews but otherwise shuns the media. The 43-year-old has made strenuous efforts to build popular local support for his organisation which has recently been rebranded as Tahrir al-Sham after ostensibly severing links with al-Qaida.
Al-Adel and ai-Golani are both working closely to establish a durable presence of al-Qaida in Syria. The project is crucial to the group’s bid to return to the forefront of the global jihadi movement after years of being overshadowed by Isis which broke away from al-Qaida shortly before launching a lightning campaign of conquest in Iraq and Syria and declaring a “caliphate” based in the Levant in 2014.
The ability of Isis to attract tens of thousands of recruits, as well as to organise and inspire a wave of bloody attacks in the west, cemented a pre-eminent position. However, al-Qaida have made inroads in Africa and Yemen and have proved to be tenacious elsewhere.
Both groups claim to be the true heirs of Bin Laden’s strategic thinking and legacy. This makes Hamza, the 15th of Bin Laden’s children, a potent weapon in the bitter rivalry between the groups.
He grew up in the Sudan and where his father was based between 1991 and 2002. As a boy and teenager, he repeatedly featured in al-Qaida propaganda videos. Captured correspondence has revealed that he had a close relationship with his father, but there is little evidence that he was ever prepared for a leadership role .
No formal decision about a successor was taken before was killed by US special forces in the house in the garrison town of Abottabad in Pakistan where he had been living for a decade. One of the al-Qaida leader son’s – Khaled bin Laden – was killed in the raid, while a second – Saad – died by a drone strike in 2009.
The formal leader of the group since the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011 is Ayman al-Zawahiri, a 65-year-old former paediatrician who has little charisma.
Hamza, who is thought to be currently based in Pakistan’s restive western borderlands, is married with three children: a son called Osama, a daughter Khairiah and a new baby. All are believed to be in Iran.
Hamza’s first public intervention with an audio message calling for attacks. His subsequent messages have followed the evolution of broader thinking among established leaders of al-Qaida, with a stress on unity among extremist groups but an increasing emphasis on individual actions.