Editor’s Note: Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst, a vice president at New America and a professor of practice at Arizona State University. He is the author of four books about al-Qaeda including “Manhunt: The Ten Year Search for bin Laden, from 9/11 to Abbottabad.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles at CNN.
A US official confirmed to CNN that Hamza bin Laden, Osama bin Laden’s son, is believed dead and that the United States had a role in his death.
Cathy Scott-Clark, a British journalist who has written extensively about the bin Ladens and is in touch with the family, confirmed Hamza’s death to me.
Hamza, believed to be 30, was being groomed to be a next-generation leader of al Qaeda.
Hamza had appeared in al Qaeda propaganda videos since he was a child. In recent years, he also had started releasing statements that positioned himself as one of al Qaeda’s ideologues – for instance, Hamza released an audio statement in 2016 calling for unity among the jihadist militants fighting in Syria.
Earlier this year the US State Department announced a $1 million reward for information about Hamza.
Despite Hamza’s increasing public profile there is no evidence to suggest that he played a successful operational role in al Qaeda organizing terrorist attacks around the world. Indeed, there hasn’t been a lethal attack by al Qaeda in the West since a terrorist operation in London that killed 52 commuters on the London transportation system in 2005. Hamza bin Laden, fortunately, did nothing to reverse this.
The night that Osama bin Laden was killed on May 2, 2011, in Abbottabad Pakistan, the US Navy SEAL operators who carried out the mission were carrying cards with the names and descriptions of who was likely to be in the compound that night. Among them was Hamza bin Laden.
Hamza, however, was not there that night so he survived, unlike another of bin Laden’s sons, Khalid, who was killed during the operation.
For much of the decade after 9/11, Hamza lived under a form of house arrest in Iran until he was released by the Iranian regime in 2010.
From Iran, Hamza made his way to the tribal areas of Waziristan in Pakistan on the border with Afghanistan, an al Qaeda stronghold. The tribal areas have long been in the crosshairs of the CIA, which has launched more than four hundred strikes in the region, according to a count by New America, a research institution.
At bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad the SEALs recovered thousands of documents, including letters from bin Laden that showed that al Qaeda’s leader had been communicating with Hamza.
Nelly Lahoud, a fellow at New America, has examined all of the documents recovered from the Abbottabad compound for a book she is writing. Lahoud says that Hamza wrote to his father that he was eager to receive military training after which he planned to go and fight in Afghanistan against “God’s enemies.”
In one of the recovered letters bin Laden fretted to an aide about the possibility of a CIA drone strike killing his son, writing, “Make sure to tell Hamza that I am of the opinion he should get out of Waziristan.” Hamza should decamp for the Persian Gulf kingdom of Qatar, bin Laden advised.
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It seems quite likely that Hamza never followed this advice and remained in Pakistan’s tribal regions where he was likely picked off by a CIA drone strike. There have been a total of 13 drone strikes in Pakistan during the Trump administration, according to New America’s count.