Hamza bin Laden warns of Shiite expansion in the Middle East

Thomas Joscelyn
1st April 2018 - FDD's Long War Journal

Al Qaeda’s propaganda arm, As Sahab, has released the latest episode in Hamza bin Laden’s lecture series on the history of Saudi Arabia. The series began in Aug. 2016, when the junior bin Laden called for the overthrow of the Saudi monarchy. Hamza has returned to criticize the Saudi royals several times since then.

Hamza uses the occasion to once again warn that the Shiites are expanding throughout the Middle East, including “toward the Two Holy Places,” meaning Saudi Arabia’s holy mosques. He accuses the Saudi government of being incapable of stopping this Iranian-led expansion and he calls upon Muslims to support the jihadists’ cause in the Arabian Peninsula.

The Shiites are advancing “from the outside on several fronts and from the inside as well,” but the House of Saud has demonstrated a “shameful inability” to confront them, Hamza claims. This means the Saudi government is “not eligible to defend the Two Holy Mosques.”

After attempting to undermine the legitimacy of the Saudi regime, Hamza calls “upon our people in the Arabian Peninsula to prepare the equipment and materials, and prepare to protect the Two Holy Mosques from the Rafidah Safavid (Shiites), and to support their mujahidin brothers in Yemen.” He specifically addresses “Muslim merchants,” saying this is their opportunity “to obtain the honor of preparing an army to protect the Two Holy Mosques.”

Hamza also implores “young Muslims” to join their “mujahidin brothers in Yemen” and “gain the necessary experience from them.”

The younger bin Laden clearly has Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in mind, as the al Qaeda branch has been leading the Sunni jihadists’ fight against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen for years. The Islamic State also has a presence in Yemen, but al Qaeda rejects its claim to represent a true caliphate. AQAP has repeatedly sought to undermine Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s project, though some jihadist figures in Yemen have worked for both organizations.

In addition to alleging that the Saudis cannot contain the Shiites’ expansion, Hamza attempts to undermine the ruling regime’s legitimacy by pointing to its historically close ties to the West. This, too, is a theme he has explored in previous episodes.

Indeed, Hamza points out that he previously criticized Ibn Saud for supposedly betraying the Ottoman Empire, allying with the British, and then paving the way for America to gain a foothold inside the kingdom. Hamza also accuses the Saudis of stabbing the Muslim Brotherhood in the back “after its role was finished” and betraying “the Palestinian issue” by accepting “a state for the Jews” and failing to fully support the “Palestinian revolutions.”

Al Qaeda has once again decided not to show Hamza’s face. His message was disseminated as an audio file spliced together with various video images. As FDD’s Long War Journal first reported last year, Hamza’s wedding video was found in a massive cache of files recovered in his father’s Abbottabad, Pakistan compound. That video shows Hamza as a young man and, once it was released, provided the public with the first images of Hamza since his childhood. Previously, al Qaeda recycled the same childhood photo of Hamza time and again, but failed to distribute a more current image of him likely due to security concerns.

The footage included with Hamza’s new speech includes various scenes of US presidents with Saudi Arabia’s rulers. One scene is from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s recent visit to the White House. During the meeting, President Trump trumpeted US arms sales to the Saudis, and this moment is included in the As Sahab production. (A screen shot can be seen below.)

Mohammed bin Salman subsequently accused Iran of harboring Hamza bin Laden. “Unfortunately, Iran is playing a harmful role,” bin Salman said during an interview with 60 Minutes that aired last month. “The Iranian regime is based on pure ideology. Many of the Al Qaeda operatives are protected in Iran and it refuses to surrender them to justice, and continues to refuse to extradite them to the United States.” Bin Salman then added: “This includes the son of Osama bin Laden, the new leader of Al- aeda. He lives in Iran and works out of Iran. He is supported by Iran.”

Although bin Salman’s comments were self-serving, and the Saudi kingdom has its own history of sponsoring Sunni extremism, it is true that Iran harbors some al Qaeda leaders, despite their ideological differences. The Obama administration repeatedly pointed to an “agreement” between Iran and al Qaeda that allows the terrorist organization to maintain a “core facilitation pipeline” on Iranian soil. Both the US Treasury and State Departments have identified a number of al Qaeda figures responsible for runing this pipeline, which Osama bin Laden himself described as the “main artery” for his organization.

Hamza bin Laden himself lived in Iran for years after the 9/11 attacks. The wedding video released last year was recorded in Iran. Although that footage doesn’t demonstrate that Hamza was under any duress at the time, his confinement inside Iran later became a point of contention between al Qaeda and the Iranian regime. Al Qaeda agitated to free family members and others held in Iranian custody, and even kidnapped an Iranian diplomat in order to force an exchange.

Hamza was finally released from Iranian custody sometime in mid-2010, making his way to northern Pakistan, where he received specialized training. His current whereabouts are not widely known. It is possible that he has returned to Iran at times, but that hasn’t been confirmed.

Regardless, Hamza’s message is clearly intended to remind viewers that al Qaeda and Iran are on opposite sides on the war in Yemen, as well as other conflicts throughout the region. And he wants to use anti-Shiite sentiment to stir up more support for the Sunni jihadists’ cause, including inside Saudi Arabia.

At-Tamkin Media, an online propaganda outfit, has translated multiple al Qaeda messages into English over the course of the past year. These messages include those produced by Ayman al Zawahiri and Hamza bin Laden. Some of the quotes in this piece come from At-Tamkin’s translation of Hamza’s latest speech.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal. Follow him on Twitter @thomasjoscelyn.

Follow the Foundation for Defense of Democracies on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington-based nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.

Tags

al-qaeda, al-qaeda-in-the-arabian-peninsula, aq-iran, aqap, at-tamkin, at-tamkin-media, hamza-bin-laden, iran, saudi-arabia-and-the-gulf-states