Three U.S. government officials, who wish to remain anonymous, have confirmed to NBC News that, at sometime during the first two years of the Trump administration, Hamza bin Laden was killed. The officials did not provide details, but did indicate that the U.S. government was involved in the military strike which caused his death. They said the US government recently received intelligence confirming that he was dead. He was thought to be 30 years old.
In February of this year, the U.S. State Department, unaware of his death, offered a $1 million reward for information about his location. The State Department claimed that bin Laden was “emerging as a leader in the Al-Qaeda franchise” and believed he was being groomed to ultimately lead Al Qaeda. They referred to him as the “crown prince of jihad.”
His death is viewed as a symbolic victory rather than the removal of a threat.
President Trump was questioned by reporters on Wednesday about bin Laden, but declined to comment.
Former F.B.I. agent Ali Soufan, an Al Qaeda expert, told the NY Times “it is unusual for Al Qaeda not to announce the death of a leader and celebrate him as a martyr. But if the American government’s assessment is accurate, it significantly damages Al Qaeda’s plans for moving to the second generation.”
According to Soufan:
Unlike other Qaeda leaders, Mr. bin Laden never criticized the Islamic State in his public speeches, The tactic suggests that he was holding back so members of the Islamic State, which began as a Qaeda affiliate and shares its ideology but broke away from its control, might have eventually accepted him as leader in any future reunification.
Bin Laden was not in the Abbottabad compound in May 2011 during the Seal Team Six raid which killed his father. But, afterward, he would regularly release “audio and video messages calling for attacks on the United States…especially to avenge his father’s killing by US forces in Pakistan in May 2011.”
In August of 2015, he was introduced as the “face” of Al Qaeda. The group called him “a young lion to carry forth the cause.”
Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the NY Times that bin Laden “was likely operating on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.”
Mr. Joscelyn said bin Laden “had an important role, both in terms of ties to the Taliban and as a spokesman…They were building him up to potentially be the No. 1 someday; he was not thought of as the heir apparent today.”