Hamza bin Laden flanked by associates (Al-Qaeda video via CIA)

How Hamza bin Laden Is Recruiting the Next Generation of Jihadists

Osama bin Laden’s groomed heir is reaching out to a fellow audience of millennials in a way that, even with 67-year-old Ayman al-Zawahiri still officially at the helm of al-Qaeda, poises the terror group for sustained growth and global lethality with a new generation.

Hamza bin Laden, thought to have been born around 1989 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, had a million-dollar bounty slapped on his head last week by the State Department’s Rewards for Justice program. He was raised in Iran with his mother — bin Laden’s third wife, Khayriya Saber — after the 9/11 attacks. His whereabouts today are unknown, but the State Department noted that he married the daughter of lead 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta. He was officially designated a global terrorist in the final days of the Obama administration.

The State Department also stressed that Osama bin Laden’s son “is emerging as a leader in the AQ franchise” — and that’s in no small part because of how Hamza bin Laden is using modern-day terror propaganda methods created by al-Qaeda and sharpened by ISIS to lure in young recruits.

Using his dad’s memory to call for attacks

In late 2017, Hamza bin Laden called for terrorists to target the Navy SEALs who killed Osama at the Abbottabad, Pakistan, compound in 2011. “I invite Muslims generally to take revenge from the Americans, the murderers of the sheikh, specifically from those who participated in this heinous crime,” he said.

That call to arms concluded with “a few words of encouragement” from the al-Qaeda heir, delivered in verse: “Tell America that our swords / In the battleground only increase in their sharpness / They will remain unsheathed to decapitate you / In the hope of reward from the glorious Lord.”

Hamza also stressed that Muslims should follow in his father’s footsteps — and his own footsteps, for that matter — and “dedicate your youth to jihad.” A July 2016 video from Hamza was titled “We Are All Osama.”

Pushing refrain that al-Qaeda could do a better Arab Spring

Osama’s journal seized from the Abbottabad compound revealed a fascination with the Arab Spring uprisings that began in 2010, with the elder bin Laden emphasizing that “this chaos and the absence of leadership in the revolutions is the best environment to spread al-Qaeda’s thoughts and ideas” — though he quibbled with the timing and pace of revolutions.

In his 2017 message, Hamza encouraged Muslims to “return to jihad” as Osama “departed this world encouraging and inciting you to continue the journey of the revolutions, warning you against premature termination or diversion of these revolutions.”

“The Arab Spring revolutions bore the message of freedom and honor, but they did not possess a protective force or a sharp sword for their defense, and thus the enemies assailed it and derailed it from its path,” he said.

Thus, Hamza continued, a new Arab Spring could be launched — focused on “agents of the Americans,” establishment of shariah law, and the battle against “subjugation to Western Crusader hegemony, widespread political and financial corruption, social injustice and moral decay.”

“The sincere people of authority and understanding among the Muslim masses must work to incite the masses and prepare them for an uprising,” he said. “They must spread awareness among them regarding the means for a successful uprising, its purpose and goals, which must from the very beginning be in conformity with the shariah of the wise one.”

Urging widespread proper jihadist training

While al-Qaeda has created some of the seminal manuals for “open-source jihad” — as they call lone terrorist actors — Hamza has stressed the importance of young jihadists receiving at some point preparation “physically in the arts of military training and fighting.”

“This may be done by sending them in groups or individually to the theaters of jihad — the crucibles for the formation of men, the life springs of honor — so that they may engage in the necessary preparations and acquire sufficient experience before returning to the society,” he said in 2017, adding that “this must continue until the preparations are complete and the masses are ready for an uprising.”

Yet still encouraging ‘come as you are’ jihad

Another young al-Qaeda leader, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula emir Qasim al-Raymi, is infamous for urging lone attacks in the West by anyone so inclined — “pious and immoral” alike — and telling would-be jihadists to not stress so much about what they do and don’t have to bring to the table but to just “take it easy” and attack. Two years earlier, in 2015, Hamza bin Laden told the “youth of Islam” to take “a good example” from “the modern-day knights and lions of the likes of Nidal Hassan, Muhammad Merrah, Umar Farooq.”

“A single sincere operation from one knight amongst you, who chose a target well, and performed it well, will shake the roots of the major countries greatly. So imagine the impact of tens of operations,” Hamza said, stressing that those drawn to jihad should be “targeting the Jewish and American interests in all of the inhabited lands in the world.”

Bin Laden’s son added that “what America and its allies fear the most is that we shift the battle from Kabul, Baghdad, and Gaza to Washington, London, Paris, and Tel Aviv, and that we transfer the battle to all of the interests of America, the Jews, and the West in the world.”

In a May 2017 audio message, Hamza told would-be jihadists that “if you are able to pick up a firearm, well and good; if not, the options are many.”

Trying to rebrand ‘terrorist’ as a ‘badge of honor’

Earlier in 2017, Hamza released an audio message beseeching al-Qaeda followers to “seize the initiative” by “turning your back on the disbelievers and their allies and being on your guard against them… we must be proud of our religion and seek honor in jihad” while taking pride in “our enmity of America.”

“Let us be proud of the anger of the West and its hatred for us,” he said. “Let us be proud of the West’s profiling of us as ‘terrorists,’ for this is no allegation; it is a badge of honor.”

Again reaching out to youths, Hamza encouraged them to “make this your motto: Either Islam shall live honorably or we shall die.”

Trying to win hearts through al-Qaeda community relations

Last April, Hamza bin Laden touted a jihadist Robin Hood plan of sorts, vowing to “redistribute the riches of the country among the poor and the needy and the deserving, so that the sons of the country can live honorably and in strength in the shade of the shariah.”

A major source of these riches, according to his video, would be Saudi Arabia, which revoked Hamza’s citizenship on Feb. 22, as well as other Middle East rulers seen as allied with the West. Hamza said that while whipping up “our dear people in the Arabian Peninsula” to rise up “against the criminal tyrants and rulers of the country,” al-Qaeda wants to incite particularly young followers “to liberate the place of revelation from the Crusaders, and protect the Two Holy Mosques from the Safavids, and establish a complete and rightly guided Islamic system.”

Part of this al-Qaeda messaging has reflected on the rise and descent of ISIS, with al-Qaeda asserting that they’ve been proven to be better stewards of Muslim lands and populations.

“It is incumbent upon our people in the Arabian Peninsula to prepare the equipment and materials, and prepare to protect the Two Holy Mosques,” Hamza bin Laden urged, adding that Muslims should be supporting AQAP “with money and men.”

Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera and SiriusXM.

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