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Trump confirms US has killed Osama bin Laden's son Hamza

Martin Pengelly in New York
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Trump confirms US has killed Osama bin Laden's son Hamza

Donald Trump confirmed on Saturday that the US has killed Hamza bin Laden, a son of the former al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

Related: Hamza bin Laden: the end of a dynasty, but not al-Qaida

Bin Laden’s death was reported in July but not confirmed by the US government. The New York Times reported then he was killed some time in the last two years.

On Saturday the White House said he was killed in “a United States counterterrorism operation in the Afghanistan/Pakistan region”. It did not say when or by which US force or agency. It has been reported that the CIA, rather than the US military, may have carried out the strike. The CIA did not comment on Saturday.

Reuters reported that an unnamed US official said Hamza was killed “months ago” and Trump was briefed at the time. The Associated Press cited “a US official familiar with the case” as saying the operation occurred within the past 18 months.

The official did not say what led to bin Laden’s death being announced now.

Bin Laden, who was believed to be aged around 30, had been seeking to lead a resurgence of al-Qaida, which has been eclipsed among jihadist terrorist groups by Islamic State. The US state department designated him as a terrorist in 2017. The US offered a $1m reward for help tracking him down.

“[Al-Qaida was] clearly grooming him to be a next generation successor,” Peter Bergen, director of the international security programme at the New America foundation, told the Guardian in July.

“Ayman al-Zawahiri [al-Qaida’s official leader] hasn’t been a particularly effective leader. He’s got a sort of charisma deficit. And they were trying to put this guy forward.”

On Saturday, using variant spellings of the Bin Laden name, that of the target’s father and the group he led, a statement issued by the White House press secretary read: “Hamza bin Ladin, the high-ranking al-Qa’ida member and son of Usama bin Ladin, was killed in a United States counterterrorism operation in the Afghanistan/Pakistan region.”

Bin Laden’s death, the statement said, “deprives al-Qa’ida of important leadership skills and the symbolic connection to his father” and “undermines important operational activities of the group”.

The statement added: “Hamza bin Ladin was responsible for planning and dealing with various terrorist groups.”

Osama bin Laden was killed by US special forces who raided his compound in Abbottabad, in Pakistan, in 2011.

Hamza bin Laden was the son of Khairiah Sabar, one of the former al-Qaida leader’s three surviving wives who lived with him in the compound. Hamza bin Laden’s last public message came in March 2018, threatening the Saudi Arabian regime. This year, he was stripped of Saudi citizenship.

Trump’s announcement of the death of Hamza bin Laden came three days after the 18th anniversary of the 11 September attacks, in which nearly 3,000 people were killed in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. More than 2,000 deaths have been attributed to post-9/11 illnesses.

Last week, Trump announced the abandonment of peace talks between the Taliban, which sheltered al-Qaida leaders in the run-up to 9/11, the US and the Afghan government.

In the week of 9/11 commemorations, a mooted invitation to Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland, attracted widespread criticism.