Reports Say U.S. Intel Community Believes Important Son Of Osama Bin Laden Is Dead
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Reports from several news organizations say the U.S. intelligence community believes an important son of Osama bin Laden has been killed. The reports are anonymous and thin on details. NPR has not confirmed them. The New York Times says the U.S. played a role in Hamza bin Laden's death and that he was viewed as an heir to al-Qaida leadership. Ali Soufan is a former FBI special agent and counterterrorism expert. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
ALI SOUFAN: Great to be back with you.
SHAPIRO: Let me just ask you because these reports are very sort of murky and vaguely sourced. What have you heard about them? And can you help us sort out what's real from what's not?
SOUFAN: You know what? I think it's interesting that they are claiming that he's dead. Usually, when somebody in al-Qaida, especially in a leadership position, is killed, al-Qaida celebrate their martyrdom.
SHAPIRO: Has al-Qaida said anything at all?
SOUFAN: No, not yet. We didn't hear anything from the organization. We didn't hear anything from the media arms of the organization, and there is no significant chatter about this in their network.
SHAPIRO: Tell us about Hamza bin Laden. You've written about him. Who is or was he? And describe his role in al-Qaida.
SOUFAN: Hamza bin Laden is the son of Osama bin Laden. He's also the son of Khairiah Sabar, bin Laden's wife. Khairiah was older than Osama bin Laden, and she was more than a wife. She was his partner in jihad. So Hamza, by default, became the favorite son. He was featured early on when he was about 8, 9 years old in Qaida propaganda videos, reciting fiery poems. And Osama wanted to start grooming him for a more senior position in al-Qaida, and basically, Hamza survived just for being late joining his dad in a few days when his dad was killed by the Navy SEALs.
SHAPIRO: Taking a step back for a moment, lately, we've heard so much more about ISIS than al-Qaida. Is al-Qaida still a serious threat to the United States?
SOUFAN: I think strategically, al-Qaida is a bigger threat to the United States than ISIS. Al-Qaida is taking the long road in so many different ways. You see al-Qaida's operation in Syria or in Afghanistan, Pakistan alongside the Taliban that continued from before 9/11. You see al-Qaida's operations in Sudan through their franchise, al-Shabab movement. You see al-Qaida in Yemen. Since the Arab coalition war in Yemen, for example, they went from about 700 fighters to more than 8,000 fighters. So al-Qaida's, you know, playing the long strategy here, and I think they have been able to generate significant support from local populations. So al-Qaida, I believe, is more dangerous today than it used to be before 9/11.
SHAPIRO: Because al-Qaida does have so many offshoots and regional chapters, does it even matter who the centralized leader is? Is it that hierarchical?
SOUFAN: It does for the organization to continue to be unified. So now we have a lot of different groups operating as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, in the Islamic Maghreb, in Somalia, in Afghan-Pakistan, in Southeast Asia. And, you know, these organizations are operating totally independently from al-Qaida central. However, they still owe allegiance to al-Qaida central, and this is where Hamza comes. Hamza comes to be that transitional leader that provide this generational transition between the old guard and between the new generations of al-Qaida, and his death will cause significant damage to al-Qaida plan because now al-Qaida will struggle to find any suitable replacement with the same credibility and the same name recognition as Hamza bin Laden.
SHAPIRO: That is former FBI special agent Ali Soufan. He is author of "Anatomy Of Terror: From The Death Of Bin Laden To The Rise Of The Islamic State." Thanks for speaking with us.
SOUFAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.