Al-Qaeda touts Hamza bin Laden to rally base

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

Hamza bin Laden, son and heir of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, is presumed to be the next leader of al-Qaeda. [Photo circulating on social media accounts]

Hamza bin Laden, son and heir of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, is presumed to be the next leader of al-Qaeda. [Photo circulating on social media accounts]

Veteran al-Qaeda elements have been pushing to establish Hamza bin Laden as the group's next leader in a desperate attempt to rally fighters by using the notorious bin Laden name, experts tell Al-Mashareq.

They hope to use Hamza, who is the son and heir of Osama bin Laden, to attract renewed support and new streams of funding, they said.

Al-Qaeda operatives in Syria, Iraq and other countries are in real need of a new symbol as they attempt to regroup, said Sheikh Nabil Naim, a founding member of Islamic Jihad in Egypt who has since renounced extremist ideology.

Arab members of al-Qaeda have been calling for a new leader to rally around for some time, he told Al-Mashareq.

But the floating of Hamza bin Laden for the position is a clear attempt to use his family name to advantage, without any consideration as to whether Hamza himself is capable of leading the group, he said.

"If Hamza bin Laden assumes al-Qaeda’s leadership he will be nothing more than a puppet in the hands of current al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and his cronies," he said.

The global crackdown on the financing of terror groups has eaten away at al-Qaeda's resources, Naim said, noting that the group's leaders are forced to consider Hamza as he is likely to be able to attract new funding.

"The funding issue will be critical to Hamza’s ascension to the emirship of the group and his ability to recruit and assert control," he said.

Ideological disputes among factions

It is very difficult to bring together extremist fighters around the world in the way al-Qaeda is planning to do, said terror group specialist Maj. Gen. Yahya Mohammed Ali, a retired Egyptian military officer.

"Fundamental ideological disputes have emerged recently among terror factions," he told Al-Mashareq.

These include the issue of subordination to the emir or caliph, whether groups should seek to establish a caliphate, and differing views about the use of excessive force against civilians, he said.

The hostilities in Syria between Tahrir al-Sham, an extremist alliance dominated by the former al-Nusra Front (ANF), and the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS), demonstrate al-Qaeda's shaky ideological foundation, he said.

Both groups originated from al-Qaeda, he said.

Foreign fighters in Syria who cannot return to their home countries after the collapse of ISIS and Tahrir al-Sham are most susceptible to al-Qaeda recruitment efforts, he added.

"They are the easiest catch, because they have no refuge," he said, adding that they will be even easier to recruit with Hamza bin Laden at the helm.

Regrouping al-Qaeda fighters unlikely

The international war on terrorism has made it almost impossible for al-Qaeda to regroup, as there is no safe haven where those who fled Syria and Iraq can assemble.

It will be difficult for al-Qaeda to establish new areas of influence, security expert and retired Egyptian military officer Maj. Gen. Abul-Karim Ahmed told Al-Mashareq.

"We might see pledges of allegiance in statements and on websites and social networking sites, and in large numbers, but no real allegiance will materialise in reality on the ground," he said.

Terror groups in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Egypt are coming under increasing pressure, and lack the logistical and financial infrastructures that allow their leaders to continue operating in their areas or move to other regions, he said.

"However, the new pledges of allegiance that may spread may be accompanied by significant terrorist activity around the world in the form of scattered attacks with limited results," he said.

The sole aim of these attacks would be to put al-Qaeda’s name back in the media, he added.

"Hamza bin Laden will not have a fundamental role and will be merely al-Qaeda’s face in its propaganda in the upcoming phase," Ahmed said.

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