Osama bin Laden’s favorite son is now a member of the U.S. State Department’s exclusive Specially Designated Global Terrorist list. The 20-something Hamza bin Laden began appearing in propaganda messaging for al Qaeda less than two years ago.
Formally, the designation means that Americans are prohibited from engaging in business with Hamza bin Laden and that his assets in the U.S. can be frozen. But it’s not clear what prompted the new designation for the scion of the world’s most infamous jihadi family.
Hamza is the only child of Osama bin Laden and Khairiah Sabar, a child psychologist who was described in Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower, a history of al Qaeda, as the terrorist's "favorite wife." She was captured at the compound when bin Laden was killed, but Hamza evaded death and capture.
Hamza bin Laden established himself early as one of Osama’s most notorious offspring. At his half-brother Mohammad's wedding, a 12-year-old Hamza reportedly promised to "fight the kafr forever,” and he reportedly appeared in a video recording of a battle in Waziristan during his teens.
“This was an obvious one for a lot of reasons,” Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told The Daily Beast. “In the weeks leading up to Osama bin Laden’s death, he was very worried about Hamza’s security.”
This was at the height of the American drone campaign, and the situation was very perilous. The elder bin Laden even considered shipping his son off to Qatar for education. But Hamza reportedly wanted to learn the family’s terror business from his father’s top men.
“You’re talking about, in some cases, six years ago. They were talking about training and grooming him,” Joscelyn said. “That’s a long time.”
He reemerged in August 2015, when al Qaeda head Ayman al-Zawahiri officially named Hamza as a leader of the group in an audio message. That recording was apparently from May 2015, and in it Hamza praised Zawahiri and renewed his pledge of allegiance to Taliban leader Mullah Omar. (Omar actually died in Pakistan in 2013, the Taliban finally admitted shortly before the al-Qaeda audio was released.)
Hamza also called for terror attacks on Paris, Washington, D.C., and Tel Aviv.
“One operation from a loyal knight from your knights who chose his target and did well in his selection, and did his job and did well in his job, it would shake the policy of a great nation in a dire fashion,” he said. “So then, what would tens of operations do?”
More recently, in a video message from May 2016, the younger bin Laden spoke out in favor of the Palestinian cause. But the younger bin Laden is much more elusive than his father; he prefers to stay off-camera. Most photos online are of a young, beardless Hamza, sometimes sitting side by side with Osama.
In July 2016, he released another speech called "We Are All Osama,” in which he taunted President Obama over promises that “he will end the wars, and that his era is an era of peace, and that he will close the open files that his predecessor left for him.”
Ibrahim al-Banna, an Egyptian leader in Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, was added to the list alongside Hamza bin Laden. The U.S. government has a $5 million reward out for information that would bring him to justice.
A State Department spokesperson told The Daily Beast that the lag in naming him a Specially Designated Global Terrorist came from the bureaucratic process that precedes such a designation. After the Zawahiri audio, the department prepared an administrative record on Hamza bin Laden, which then had to be run up the chain of command.