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We are all Osama - could Hamza Bin Laden revive Al-Qaeda?

In a statement released over the weekend, the son of Osama Bin Laden sent a hollowing threat to the United States through an audio message titled "We are all Osama". Believed to be around the age of 24, many are speculating that Hamza Bin Laden may be the new force of revival for the terrorist organisation.

With the growth of Daesh, battling Al-Qaeda has become less of a priority. There are two main flaws in this policy approach. The first is that it does not consider the internal structure and the personalities in the Al-Qaeda hierarchy and relies on the group's military strength to assess its influence in the region.

The second is that the approach did not anticipate Al-Qaeda's reaction to the growth of Daesh by evolving its recruitment and media strategy.

Hamza is the youngest of Osama Bin Laden's sons, who survived the US raid that killed his father and older brother Khaled. At that time, it was thought that Hamza was killed, but investigations shortly after showed that he had not been either captured or killed.

Compared to his brother Omar, Hamza has lived a discreet life. This is especially true after his father's death. By the age of 10, two months after 9/11, Hamza and two of his older brothers Khaled and Mohammed were already seen working with the Taliban in Afghanistan.  He was also shown in a video participating in an assault on Pakistani security forces in Waziristan in 2005. He was known to be close to his father, but also to share similar personality traits to him.

Early on he was well liked and respected in the higher ranks of Al-Qaeda. In jihadist propaganda videos, he was featured as the baby-faced mascot and model fighter for boys his age. At the time, he was too young to take on responsibility in the group's higher ranks.

After the death of his father, Ayman Al-Zawahiri became the general emir of Al-Qaeda at the age of 59. His lack of charisma meant he was unable to relate to potential radicals and appeal to the youth the group needed to recruit. Concerns were raised about whether he would be able to unite the Al-Qaeda factions under one umbrella. The group began to lag in their recruitment and selection methods by and large ignoring the power of social media.

Under Bin Laden, Al Qaeda's propaganda machine delivered a strong message to people of all ages, but was unique in the sense that it also managed to radicalise youth in the West through the internet, as well as sermons in both countries they had influence in and abroad.

Their use of information technology as a mechanism of recruitment was fairly new at that stage, but they failed to capitalise on it as time went on.

Daesh, on the other hand, took advantage of social media and modern communication methods for radicalisation and recruitment. It has a strong leader whose powerful words are portrayed through high quality videos, extensive networks all over social media and enough military successes to show substantial credibility. Daesh took the model of radicalisation that Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda cemented and upgraded it.

Given Hamza's current age, his charisma and his father's legacy, if he does take on a leading role in the terrorist organisation, he could be its reviving force. Within Al-Qaeda, the decision would immediately be welcomed as having the potential to take the group back to its golden age when unity between the factions was strong and its name instilled fear into the eyes of the most substantial policy makers and military strategists.

Another advantage that Al-Qaeda may  capitalise on is that its rhetoric is not as radical as that of Daesh. While Daesh aims to completely destroy borders and have a global government under an Islamic caliphate, Al-Qaeda focuses more on working within the global order and installing Islam into it. In Hamza's latest audio recording, he hailed the Syrian revolution and said it is the route to liberating Palestine, whereas Daesh do not recognise Syria or Palestine.

Because of this, policy makers must understand that they cannot interchangeably try to weaken the most powerful terrorist organisation at one time. It is evident that there is a cycle that after one terrorist organisation is weakened, another takes centre stage and becomes the bigger threat. Instead, it makes more sense to alleviate the conditions that harbour terrorism, including sanctioning regimes such as that of Syria's Bashar Al-Assad  that have used terrorists for a strategic advantage at some point in their rule. Hamza Bin Laden's appearances have shown that while Al-Qaeda has been weakened and overshadowed by Daesh, it is clearly not anticipating staying in this state. For now, it is unclear if he will replace Al-Zawahiri in the near future, but it is clear that his voice within Al-Qaeda is increasing in prominence.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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