Al Qaeda seeks to leverage Osama bin Laden’s legacy through his son, Hamza bin Laden, to unify the Salafi-jihadi movement under its leadership. Hamza bin Laden is part of the next generation of al Qaeda leadership, alongside Syrian leader Abu Mohammed al Joulani. Hamza’s integration into al Qaeda’s media production shows his rising prominence within the public face of the organization, like reported by criticalthreats.org.
Al Qaeda-produced statements from Hamza bin Laden have taken on core issues addressed by al Qaeda leadership and are increasing in frequency. Hamza focused on the Syrian jihad for the first time in a September 14, 2017 statement, for example. He previously had focused on jihad outside of the Muslim world and sought to inspire lone-wolf attacks. His next statement again tackled questions on the global Salafi-jihadi movement. Hamza emphasized Osama bin Laden’s role and previous al Qaeda successes as a way to further establish his own bona fides and right to lead. Hamza bin Laden’s elevated media presence coupled with his earlier declaration that “the cause of Syria is the cause of Islam,” shows a concerted effort to bring Syrian groups back under al Qaeda’s influence. Al Qaeda is cultivating Hamza as a young and charismatic leader to take on his father’s mantle.
Summary of Hamza bin Laden’s statements:
- November 7, 2017: Hamza bin Laden used the image of his father to promote al Qaeda’s leadership of the Salafi-jihadi movement and boost his own credibility to lead that movement. Hamza reiterated al Qaeda’s global strategy of inserting itself into post-Arab Spring insurgencies to defend the oppressed and bring forth a society based on its interpretation of shari’a.
- September 14, 2017: Hamza bin Laden called for all Muslims to support the Syrian jihad in a statement released for the 9/11 anniversary. Zawahiri, who traditionally commented on Syria and Iraq, omitted the topic from his 9/11 remarks and instead drummed up support for regional affiliates. Hamza’s messaging on Syria closely matched that of al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri.
- May 20, 2017: Hamza bin Laden justified overthrowing the Saudi government by emphasizing the al Saud family’s historical betrayal of Muslims through its collusion with the British government to undermine the Ottoman Empire.
- May 13, 2017: Hamza bin Laden endorsed AQAP’s Inspiremagazine and encouraged lone-wolf attacks. He prioritized targets as (1) Jewish interests; (2) U.S. interests; (3) NATO member states; and (4) Russia. Al Qaeda’s al Sahab media referred to Hamza bin Laden by the epithet, “sheikh,” rather than “brother mujahid,” indicating a subtle promotion in his stature.
- August 17, 2016: Hamza bin Laden advised Saudis to train with AQAP in Yemen to overthrow the Saudi government and end American influence in the Kingdom. The message parallels his father’s rhetoric.
- July 9, 2016: Hamza bin Laden threatened revenge against the United States and called for fighters to remain steadfast in their efforts while video images of his father and other martyred al Qaeda leaders streamed.
- May 9, 2016: Hamza bin Laden called for lone-wolf attacks in the West and for Muslim groups to unify in Iraq and Syria.
- August 13, 2015: Al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri introduced Hamza bin Laden, who spoke of Osama bin Laden’s strategy to attack against the United States and others supporting governments in the Muslim world and overthrow apostate regimes. Hamza bin Laden called for those unable to travel for those unable to travel for jihad to carry out lone-wolf attacks in the West.