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Hamza Bin Laden: Al-Qaeda's neoteric leadership
Killing of Osama bin Laden, founder of the Al-Qaeda by a unit of the Special Operations of United States military on May 2, 2011, in Abbottabad, Pakistan, was considered to be a significant symbolic victory of the USA in its international counter terrorism campaign. It was a severe blow to the Al-Qaeda organization and its leadership. Killing of Osama also proved to be a morale booster for the United States and the NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Within a short span of one year of killing of Osama Bin Laden, USA went on successfully killing spree of Qaida's major leadership and eliminated some prominent leaders in various places. USA claimed that by mid-2012, it had killed half of Qaeda's leadership through drones. About two dozen Qaeda's most dangerous operational commanders and strategists were killed in such attacks, which included Ilyas Kashmiri who was considered to be one of Qaeda's most dangerous operational commanders and strategies, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman who was Qaeda's  top operational planner, and Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born leader of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

However, despite crippling Qaida's leadership, USA could not reach Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, the "operational brain" as well as chief ideologue and co-founder of Al-Qaeda. During Osama's leadership, Zawahiri was his second-in-command. After killing of Osama, it was Zawahiri who took over reins of Al-Qaeda on June 16,2011. USA, so far, has failed to arrest or eliminates him. After the infamous September 11, 2001 attacks, USA had also announced a reward of US$ 25 million for information leading to his arrest, but did not get any clue of his location.  

However, since Osama's killing, Zawahiri became pro-active in rebuilding Al-Qaeda and maintaining active links with offshoots of Qaida. Known as 'Robin Hood 'of international terrorism, Zawahiri is equally feared by international counter terrorism experts. According to Bruce Reidel, a former career CIA analyst ,who had also authored a famous book on Al Qaida, titled 'The Search for Al-Qaida: Its Leadership, Ideology and Future', warned that although Zawahiri might not have aura of greatness of Osama, he is an experienced terrorist, who was involved in successful terrorists plots for a number of years. Reidel also warned that Zawahiri should not be underestimated as he carried a great deal of vulnerability in international terrorism.

Though there is no confirmed known location of Zawahiri , he is believed to be hiding in Pakistan with the support of ISI. According to British investigative journalists Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy, since 2005, Zawahiri has been living at different locations in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and he is married to a local Pashtun girl. However, USA is still after him and since 2001, Zawahiri has survived a number of drone attacks on him.

Significantly, in January 2016, Zawahiri had reportedly survived an American drone strike in Shawal Valley in FATA, bordering Afghanistan. In July 2015, Zawahiri was again spotted in Shawal Valley along with his three wives and his top aide, Saif al-Adel, a former colonel in the Egyptian special forces.

Some Western security analysts and journalists believe that after facing a near death situation due to drone strike in January 2016 in Shawal Valley in FATA, ISI had shifted Zawahiri and his family to Karachi, to avoid any Abbottabad type military operation of USA as Karachi is a congested city, with thousands of Al-Qaeda sympathizers and presence of a large Pakistani military troops in the city. 

Notably, Zawahiri is regular in releasing his audio and video recordings in Arabic language, propagating Al-Qaida's stand on various Islamic and international issues, which are shown on social media and satellite television networks, like al Jazeera. Since 2003, Zawahiri has released over 60 such recordings till mid-2016, out of which about ten recordings were released by him after the killing of Osama. Meanwhile, some speculative reports also indicated that Zawahiri's safety was also being taken care by Iran's Quds Force, which is a special force of Iran's Revolutionary Guards and responsible for their extraterritorial operations. The Quds Force reportedly directly reports to the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei.

Furthermore, the phenomenal rise and success of  Abu Bakr al Baghdadi  as an undisputed leader of the Islamic State (IS), in 2010, which was an intrepid Sunni militant offshoot of Al-Qaida further added woes to Zawahiri's leadership mettle in Al-Qaeda . Baghdadi's snapping ties with Al-Qaeda, his proclaiming himself as "Caliph" (head of the State) in June 2014 for the Muslim world as well as where ever Muslims were located and achieving success in Iraq, Jordan and Syria put Zawahiri's in a great dilemma over issue of supremacy of Al-Qaeda. 

By now IS had become a bitter rival of Al-Qaeda as Baghdadi, to a larger extent, had succeeded in convincing the Muslim hardliners that he had more religious credentials than Zawahiri or any other leader of the Al-Qaeda. Zawahiri and Al-Qaeda's leadership virtually disowned Baghdadi and his IS, due to the latter's restoring to ruthless violent tactics, fearing that it could alienate many Muslims around the world. IS also had the upper hand over Al-Qaeda in recruiting and arranging funds and virtually wrested tag of leadership of the global Islamist revolution from Zawahiri's Al-Qaeda.

Zawahiri, in bid to regain supremacy of Al-Qaeda amongst hardliners of the Muslim world infused young blood and promoted 28-years-old and Jeddah-born Hamza Bin Laden, the 11th and the youngest of all of Osama's children in 2015 as Al-Qaeda's new Chief. Zawahiri, in an audio message in 2015 had described Hamza as the 'lion' of Al-Qaeda, who was chosen to take revenge for his father's killing at the hands of USA. Hamza was with his father Osama in Afghanistan before the 9/11 attacks in USA and had also spent a considerable time with the leadership of Al-Qaeda in Pakistan. Notably, Hamza was being groomed by his father Osama to be his heir apparent after the killing of  Saad, Hamza's older brother, in a 2009 US drone strike.

Emergence of Hamza as "Emir" (commander) of Al-Qaeda did not surprise international security analysts, as he was being groomed by Zawahiri as an "inspiring  face" of the organsaiton.

According to a Western journalist, Hamza was under the protection of Pakistan army's ISI, which was denied by Abid Saeed, the then spokesman for Pakistan's embassy in Washington, DC, in 2016, who called the allegations as a "part of a vicious media campaign". Incidentally, Hamza was also implicated in the assassination of the former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007.

After being appointed as Al-Qaeda Chief, Hamza started targeting USA and in July 2016, in an audio message, he vowed to take revenge of his father's killing by the USA. Hamza's growing influence in Al-Qaeda was noticed by the USA and he was classified as Specially Designated Global Terrorist in January 2017. 

Significantly, in mid-May 2017, before terrorist attacks in Manchester in the United Kingdom, Al-Qaeda had released a 10-minute-long audio message of Hamza in which he had asked his followers to attack Americans, Westerners, Jewish and Russians, where ever they were. 

Earlier, in July 2016, Hamza had released his 20-minute-long audio message titled "We Are All Osama" in which he had threatened the USA to take revenge of his father's death.

Passing on leadership of Al-Qaeda to late Osama's youngest son Hamza by 69-year-old Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was also closest confidant of late Osama is a significant development, when rumours of killing of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, chief of IS are in the air. 

Since some leading Islamic hardliners and their organizations were leaning towards IS progressively and Al-Qaeda was being overshadowed by Taliban in Afghanistan, infusing of young blood in Al-Qaeda by handing over organization's control to Osama's son Hamza was a well calculated move by Zawahiri. 

Moreover, when Baghdadi's Islamic State was under intense attack, Al-Qaeda turned towards young Hamza's leadership, in a bid to provide Islamic jehadists another active front and attract them.

It is doubtless that Hamza being the son of late Osama and part of latter's legacy is at present most charismatic jehadi, who is capable of providing a new face to Al-Qaeda. Bruce Riedel, a former senior functionary of CIA and now Director of the Brookings Institution's Intelligence Project described Hamza as a "most charismatic and potent individual" in the next generation of jehadis, when Zawahiri and Baghdadi were "fading". Taking over reins of Al-Qaeda by Hamza is indicative of the fact that Al-Qaeda would act more aggressively in the days to come to prove that neither Osama Bin Laden's legacy nor his organization is defeated.

Thus, Hamza's stepping into his father's shoes is an important development, and it would be watched and assessed conscientiously and meticulously by counter terrorism experts around the world in the days to come.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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