Hamza bin Laden, the son of the late al-Qaida leader, has married the daughter of Mohammed Atta, the lead hijacker in the 9/11 terror attacks, according to his family.
The union was mentioned by Osama bin Laden’s half-brothers. Ahmad and Hassan al-Attas said they believed Hamza had taken a senior position within al-Qaida and was aiming to avenge the death of his father, shot dead during a US military raid in Pakistan.
Hamza bin Laden is the son of one of Osama bin Laden’s three surviving wives, Khairiah Sabar, who was living with her husband in a compound in Abbottabad, near a large Pakistani military base, when he was killed. He has since made public statements urging followers to wage war on Washington, London, Paris and Tel Aviv and is seen as a deputy to the terrorist group’s current leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
“We have heard he has married the daughter of Mohammed Atta,” said Ahmad al-Attas. “We’re not sure where he is, but it could be Afghanistan.”
Western intelligence agencies have been increasingly focusing on the whereabouts of Hamza bin Laden over the past two years, seeing him as more likely than anyone else to galvanize followers. His marriage to the daughter of Atta, an Egyptian national, appears to confirm that the 9/11 alumni remains a central hub of al-Qaida and that the organization itself continues to be organized around Osama bin Laden’s legacy.
Another of Bin Laden’s sons, Khalid, was killed in the US raid in Abbottabad. A third, Saad, was killed in a drone strike in Afghanistan in 2009. Letters purportedly written by Osama bin Laden and seized from the compound suggested he was grooming Hamza to replace him, partly to avenge the death of Saad.
Bin Laden’s wives and surviving children have returned to Saudi Arabia, where they were given refuge by the former crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef. The women and children remain in close contact with Bin Laden’s mother, Alia Ghanem, who told the Guardian in an interview that she remained in regular touch with surviving family members.
“When we thought everyone was over this, next thing I knew was Hamza saying I am going to avenge my father,” said Hassan al-Attas. “I don’t want to go through that again.
“If Hamza was in front of me now, I would tell him: God guide you. Think twice about what you are doing. Don’t retake the steps of your father. You are entering really negative and horrible parts of your soul.”
The family claimed they did not have any contact with Osama bin Laden from 1999 until his death in 2011. They said they had not heard from Hamza bin Laden nor received any messages from him.
In recognition of his apparent status within al-Qaida, the US government labeled him a specially designated global terrorist in January 2017, meaning his assets could be blocked and anyone who dealt with him faced arrest.
The family’s claim will come as a surprise to many, and is impossible to confirm. Atta was previously thought to have been a prude with no known marriages, or children, before he died piloting American airlines Flight 11 into the North Tower of the World Trade Centre. Some accounts of his adult life had portrayed him as an avowed virgin.
The will Atta left, five years before the attack, made no mention of dependents, through any child would likely have been born closer to 2001. He is believed to have spent many months in 2000 in Afghanistan during the decisive moments of the plot to strike New York and Washington. Next to nothing is known of his movements during that time.
Hamza bin Laden is known to have spent many years after the attacks in Iran, where he and dozens of other family members of the 9/11 plotters were guarded by senior Iranian intelligence and military officials. The group was at times effectively under house arrest and other times free to move around. Hamza was mentored in Iran by al-Khayr al-Masri, who was deputy to al-Zawahiri after the death of Osama bin Laden. Al-Masri was released by Iran and taken to the Turkish border, from where he crossed into Syria. He was killed by a US drone in Idlib province in February 2017.
Some reports at the time suggested Hamza had also traveled to Syria. However, he is believed to have instead made his way to the tribal territories between Afghanistan and Pakistan.