Hamza bin Laden’s rise to prominence
By JON GAMBRELL
Monday, March 18
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The boy is only 12 years old and looks even younger and smaller kneeling next to the wreckage of a helicopter, flanked by masked jihadis carrying Kalashnikov assault rifles with bandoliers strapped across their chests.
Hamza bin Laden, with a traditional Arab coffee pot to his right and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher to his left leaning against the debris, made his worldwide television debut reciting a poem in a propaganda video just weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks planned by his father Osama.
Years after the death of his father at the hands of a U.S. Navy SEAL raid in Pakistan, it is now Hamza bin Laden who finds himself squarely in the crosshairs of world powers. In rapid succession in recent weeks, the U.S. put a bounty of up to a $1 million for him; the U.N. Security Council named him to a global sanctions list, sparking a new Interpol notice for his arrest; and his home country of Saudi Arabia revealed it had revoked his citizenship.
Those measures suggest that international officials believe the now 30-year-old militant is an increasingly serious threat. He is not the head of al-Qaida but he has risen in prominence within the terror network his father founded, and the group may be grooming him to stand as a leader for a young generation of militants.
“Hamza was destined to be in his father’s footsteps,” said Ali Soufan, a former FBI agent focused on counterterrorism who investigated al-Qaida’s attack on the USS Cole. “He is poised to have a senior leadership role in al-Qaida.”
Much remains unknown about him — particularly, the key question of where he is — but his life has mirrored al-Qaida’s path, moving quietly and steadily forward, outlasting its offshoot and rival, the Islamic State group.
“LIVING, BREATHING” AL-QAIDA
Hamza bin Laden’s exact date of birth remains disputed, but most put it in 1989. That was a year of transition for his father, who had gained attention for his role in supplying money and arms to the mujahedeen fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Osama bin Laden himself was one of over 50 children of a wealthy, royally connected construction magnate in the kingdom.
As the war wound down, bin Laden emerged as the leader of a new group that sought to leverage that global network brought together in Afghanistan for a new jihad. They named it al-Qaida, or “the base” in Arabic.
Already, bin Laden had met and married Khairiah Saber, a child psychologist from Saudi Arabia’s port city of Jiddah who reportedly had treated bin Laden’s son by another wife, Saad, for autism. She gave birth to Hamza, their only child together, as al-Qaida itself took its first, tentative steps toward the Sept. 11 attacks.
“This boy has been living, breathing and experiencing the al-Qaida life since age zero,” said Elisabeth Kendall, a senior research fellow at Pembroke College at Oxford University who studies Hamza bin Laden.
Hamza, whose name means “lion” or “strength” in Arabic, was a toddler when the bin Ladens’ life in exile began. They moved to Sudan after bin Laden’s criticism of the kingdom hosting American forces during the 1991 Gulf War alienated the Al Saud royal family.
Under growing international pressure after bin Laden declared holy war on the U.S., Sudan pushed him out and the family moved again to Afghanistan in 1996. Hamza bin Laden was 7.
Al-Qaida’s attacks against the U.S. began in earnest in 1998 with the dual bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people. Its 2000 suicide attack against the USS Cole off Yemen killed at least 17 sailors.
Hamza bin Laden appeared in photographs alongside his father or in propaganda videos in this time, hanging from monkey bars in military-style training or reciting a poem in classical Arabic, garbed in a camouflage vest.
Then came Sept. 11, 2001. The coordinated al-Qaida hijacking sent two U.S. commercial airliners slamming into the World Trade Center in New York, one striking the Pentagon and another crashing in rural Pennsylvania, all together killing nearly 3,000 people.
So at age 12, Hamza bin Laden appeared in the video above the wreckage of a helicopter, likely a remnant of the Soviet occupation, not a U.S. warplane as al-Qaida claimed at the time.
He recited a poem praising his father’s ally, Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, as the “lion of Kabul,” ran in a field with other boys and held a pistol above his head as if fearless of American airstrikes. It marked the last moments before the U.S.-led invasion would topple the Taliban and send Osama bin Laden fleeing into the mountains of Tora Bora and, from there, Pakistan.
Hamza later remembered receiving prayer beads from his father with his brother Khalid before leaving him.
“It was as if we pulled out our livers and left them there,” he wrote.
And then, like his father, Hamza bin Laden disappeared.
THE IRAN YEARS
Hamza bin Laden and his mother followed other al-Qaida members into Pakistan amid the U.S.-led coalition bombing campaign on Afghanistan. From there, they crossed into Iran, where other al-Qaida leaders hid them in a series of safe houses, according to experts and analysis of documents seized after the U.S. Navy SEAL team raid that killed the elder bin Laden in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad.
The connection between al-Qaida and Iran has been a murky one, firmly disputed by Tehran. Iran, the Mideast’s predominant Shiite power, on its face seems a strange home for the Sunni Arab militants. Sunni extremists views Shiites as heretics and target them for violence.
But al-Qaida under Osama bin Laden made inroads with Iran during his days in Sudan, according to the U.S. government’s 9/11 Commission. The commission said al-Qaida militants later received training in Lebanon from the Shiite militant group Hezbollah, which Iran backs to this day.
Before the Sept. 11 attacks, Iran allowed al-Qaida militants to pass through its borders without receiving stamps in their passports or with visas obtained at its consulate in Karachi, Pakistan, according to a 19-page, unsigned report found among Osama bin Laden’s personnel effects in the Abbottabad raid. That helped the organization’s Saudi members avoid suspicion. They also had contact with Iranian intelligence agents, according to the report.
Iran offered al-Qaida fighters “money and arms and everything they need, and offered them training in Hezbollah camps in Lebanon, in return for striking American interests in Saudi Arabia,” the report said.
This matches up with the 9/11 Commission’s report, which found that eight of the Sept. 11 hijackers passed through Iran before arriving in the United States. However, the commission “found no evidence that Iran or Hezbollah was aware of the planning for what later became the 9/11 attack.”
It’s unclear why Iran allowed the al-Qaida members, including bin Laden’s children and wives, to enter the country immediately after the 9/11 attacks. Iran’s president at the time, the reformist politician Mohamed Khatami, and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei condemned the attack, and Iran helped the ensuing U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan. However, by January 2002, U.S. President George W. Bush declared Iran as part of an “Axis of Evil” alongside Iraq and North Korea.
Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment.
By April 2003, just weeks into the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that toppled Saddam Hussein, Iranian intelligence officials had had enough of al-Qaida being beyond their control. It rounded up all the al-Qaida members it could find and detained them, apparently at a series of military bases or other closed-off compounds, according to contemporaneous accounts by several al-Qaida militants.
In Iran, Hamza’s mother Khairiah Saber urged the al-Qaida lieutenants there to take her son — now a teenager — under their wing. Hamza wrote to his father recounting the Islamic theology books he studied in detention, while expressing frustration that he was not among the jihadis in battle.
“The mujahedeen have impressed greatly in the field of long victories, and I am still standing in my place, prohibited by the steel shackles,” Hamza wrote in one of his letters found at Abbottabad. “I dread spending the rest of my young adulthood behind iron bars.”
But those shackles ended up keeping him and the other al-Qaida members safe as the U.S. under Bush and later President Barack Obama targeted militants across the Mideast in a campaign of drone strikes. Hamza’s half brother Saad escaped Iranian custody and made it to Pakistan, only to be immediately killed by an American strike in 2009.
“That probably saved (Hamza) that he was in Iran during that period where everyone else was being knocked off, detained,” said Tricia Bacon, an assistant professor at American University who focuses on al-Qaida and once worked in counterterrorism at the State Department. “It probably was one of the better places to be able to re-emerge at a later time.”
Hamza during this time even married into al-Qaida, picking a daughter of Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, an Egyptian who the U.S. says helped plan the November 1998 embassy attacks. The two had two children, Osama and Khairiah, named after his parents.
“I ask God to place their image in your eye,” Hamza wrote his father. “He created them to serve you.”
By this time, rumors of al-Qaida members being in Iran had reached a fever pitch. A teenage daughter of Osama bin Laden, Eman, somehow escaped imprisonment in late 2009 and made her way to the Saudi Embassy in Tehran. Iran’s then-Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said at the time: “We don’t know how this person went to the embassy or how she entered the country.”
Khalid bin Laden, another son of the wanted terrorist, later would write a letter that was posted online and addressed to Iran’s supreme leader saying his siblings were “beaten and repressed.”
After years of imprisonment, an opportunity emerged for the al-Qaida members held in Iran. Gunmen in late 2008 kidnapped an Iranian diplomat in northwestern Pakistan. He would be freed in March 2010 as Hamza and others also left custody.
Osama bin Laden thought of sending Hamza to Qatar for religious scholarship, but his son instead went to Pakistan’s Waziristan province, where he asked for weapons training, according to a letter to the elder bin Laden. His mother left for Abbottabad immediately, where her husband was in hiding, with Hamza hoping to come as well.
But on May 2, 2011, the Navy SEAL team raided Abbottabad, killing Osama bin Laden and Khalid, as well as others. Saber and other wives living in the house were imprisoned. Hamza again disappeared.
In August 2015, a video emerged on jihadi websites of Ayman al-Zawahri, the current leader of al-Qaida, introducing “a lion from the den of al-Qaida” — Hamza bin Laden. The younger bin Laden was not shown in the video, speaking only in an audio recording. With a voice deepened from the tinny recitals he offered as a child, he praised al-Qaida’s franchises and other militants.
“What America and its allies fear the most is that we take the battlefield from Kabul, Baghdad, and Gaza to Washington, London, Paris, and Tel Aviv, and to take it to all the American, Jewish, and Western interests in the world,” he said.
Since then, he has been featured in around a dozen al-Qaida messages, delivering speeches on everything from the war in Syria to Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia on his first foreign trip as U.S. president. His style resembles his father’s, with references to religious studies and snippets of poetry, a contrast to the gory beheading videos of the Islamic State group, which had risen up from al-Qaida in Iraq to seize territory across Iraq and Syria.
“He’s not blood and guts,” said Kendall, the senior research fellow at Pembroke College at Oxford University. “His speeches are more literary and educated.”
While al-Zawahri still controls al-Qaida, the multiple messages have raised speculation that the terror group may be trying to plan for the future by putting forward a fresh face — albeit one they have so far only showed in old photographs of Hamza bin Laden as a child.
Meanwhile, the Islamic State group has seen its territory slip away as it was pounded by a U.S.-led coalition, Russian airstrikes and Iranian-backed forces.
That has left al-Qaida as the prominent jihadi group standing.
“I think as ISIS’ strength continues to deteriorate, the international community has perhaps realized that there are other terrorist groups — including the ones that never went away, such as al-Qaida,” said Sajjan Gohel, the international security director of the United Kingdom-based Asia-Pacific Foundation, using another acronym for the Islamic State group.
“In fact, al-Qaida has been quietly growing, regaining strength, letting ISIS take all the hits while they quietly reconstitute themselves,” he added.
The State Department named Hamza bin Laden as a “global terrorist” in 2017, then followed up in February with the bounty on his head as the U.N. blacklisted him.
The designations show officials consider him a threat.
“There is probably other intelligence that indicates something’s happening and that’s what put this thing on the front burner,” said Soufan, the former FBI agent.
But what’s happening within al-Qaida remains a mystery. Hamza bin Laden hasn’t been heard from since a message in March 2018, in which he threatened the rulers of Saudi Arabia. Why remains in question. Rumors have circulated he himself was targeted in an attack. The CIA also published video of him in November 2017 at his wedding in Iranian detention, showing the first publicly known photographs of him since childhood.
An image from that video now graces his U.S. wanted poster.
“Will he be successful? We don’t know. Will he live long to do what his father was able to do? We have no idea. We might drone him tomorrow,” Soufan said. “But this is the plan. This is what they wanted to do. This is what he is destined, I believe, to do from the beginning.”
Associated Press writer Maamoun Youssef in Cairo contributed to this report.
Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellap.
Climate protests: First the students, now adults in France
By ANGELA CHARLTON
Sunday, March 17
PARIS (AP) — While some yellow vest protesters rioted along a famed Paris avenue, elsewhere in the French capital an entirely different scene unfolded Saturday: tens of thousands of people marching peacefully to urge faster government action against global warming.
Families, movie stars, activists and politicians were among 30,000 people who demonstrated from the city’s famed Opera Garnier to the Republic Plaza. Some carried signs reading “There is no Planet B” and “Dinosaurs also thought they had time.”
It was among dozens of climate rallies around France on Saturday, the day after student climate protests took place in hundreds of cities in more than 100 nations.
Singing songs and holding hands, the French climate protesters were a sharp contrast with the violence on the Champs-Elysees avenue, where yellow vest protesters and troublemakers set fires, ransacked luxury boutiques and clashed with French riot police who were firing tear gas and water cannon to disperse them.
French President Emmanuel Macron made a passionate call this week to speed up the global fight against climate change. He sees himself as a guarantor of the 2015 Paris climate accord, and has stood up firmly to skepticism from U.S. President Donald Trump.
But activists say Macron’s government isn’t ambitious enough in cutting emissions. Scientists have warned for decades that current levels of greenhouse gas emissions are unsustainable, so far with little effect.
Saturday’s protest was part of what Greenpeace, Oxfam and two French environmental groups call “The Affair of the Century,” an activist effort they launched in December.
An online climate petition garnered more than 2 million signatures and backing from stars like Juliette Binoche and Marion Cotillard. The groups then filed legal action Thursday to try to take the state to court to speed up action against global warming.
Those moves can have political consequences, however.
The yellow vest protest movement is an example of the challenges of aggressive climate policy. It started out of anger over rises in fuel taxes that Macron said were necessary to wean France off using fossil fuels. Protesters said they disproportionately hit working classes in the provinces who rely on their cars to get to work, school, doctor’s offices and stores.
Macron later delayed the fuel tax hike because of the fierce protests.
Saturday’s marches came the day after angry students in more than 100 countries walked out of classes to protest what they see as the failures by their governments to cut emissions of heat-trapping gases.
Read more AP climate news here: https://www.apnews.com/Climate
Boeing 737 Max: air safety, market pressures and cockpit technology
Updated March 15, 2019
Author: Oihab Allal-Chérif is a Friend of The Conversation. Full Professor, Information Systems, Purchasing and Supply Chain Management, Neoma Business School
Disclosure statement: Oihab Allal-Chérif does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: Neoma Business School provides funding as a member of The Conversation FR.
In just five short months, two Boeing 737 Max 8 airliners crashed, killing a total of 346 passengers and crew members. Both occurred shortly after take-off, and the similarities between the two catastrophes raised fundamental questions about the aircraft’s safety. It was grounded by nation after nation, with only Canada and the United States holding out. Finally, they too halted flights on March 13.
The 737 Max – the fastest-selling airliner ever and the heart of Boeing’s business – is now grounded worldwide, a first. A boycott by travelers, a cancellation of orders, and demands for compensation by airlines could have disastrous consequences for the Seattle-based manufacturer. It also raises questions about the ever-increasing sophistication of cockpit technology.
Narrow-body jet with a long history
The 737 is a narrow-body, twin-jet airliner with a long history. It entered service in 1968 and over the decades, Boeing has built and sold more than 10,000, making it the best-selling airliner in history. The 737 Max, first delivered in 2017, is the fourth generation and with 370 deliveries and 5,011 more on order, it represents 64% of Boeing’s production over the next 14 years. In 2011, the company made the world’s biggest ever single sale of commercial aircraft, when Indonesia’s Lion Air committed to buy 201 Boeing 737 Max and 29 Boeing 737-900 ER for a total of $22 billion.
Boeing started development of what would be the 737 Max after American Airlines, a long-time customer, opted for Airbus in July 2011. To match the energy efficiency of the 737’s direct competitor, the A320neo, Boeing decided to improve the design and placement of the 737’s engines, increasing their size and positioning them higher and further forward. The new aerodynamics and lighter materials cut fuel consumption by 14%, but also required new stability control systems and other significant changes.
“Max efficiency, max reliability, max passenger appeal: Boeing’s new 737 Max.”
The 737 Max is available in four configurations, the most popular of which are the Max 8 and 9, with 210 and 220 passengers, respectively. To speed getting the aircraft to market and into the air, Boeing’s strategy was to make the new versions similar enough to the previous ones that pilots didn’t need to be retrained. While this made sense as a commercial strategy, some pilots complained that the new embedded systems made the 737 Max a completely different aircraft to fly.
Separate crashes, similar circumstances
The first fatal 737 Max crash took place on October 29, 2018. Lion Air flight JT610 left Jakarta for Pangkai Pinang under ideal conditions. The plane was brand new and the weather good. After 11 minutes, however, the pilots reported technical problems and attempted to turn back, but in vain. The plane could not gain altitude, nosedived, and plunged into the Java Sea less than 15 minutes after take-off. All 189 passengers and crew died.
The second crash occurred on March 10, 2019. That day, Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 took off from Addis Ababa, heading for Nairobi. The plane was delivered a year earlier and given a technical check just a month before. The pilot was highly experienced, having flown more than 8,000 hours. Six minutes after take-off, however, he reported technical difficulties and asked to turn back. The request was granted, but the plane disappeared from radar. The death toll was 157, including 35 different nationalities. An entire UN delegation of 19 people perished.
Suspicions of sensor and software malfunctions
Given the similarity of the two crashes, aviation experts consider them unlikely to be a coincidence – there had to have been a genuine, serious cause, and one could call into question certain aspects of the 737 Max’s design. Indeed, a 2018 report by US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) indicates that incidence sensors, also called angle of attack (AOA) sensors, designed to avoid stall, are suspected of being defective on at least 246 737 Max around the globe. The information provided by these sensors, whose purpose is to stabilize the plane, may mistakenly cause it to nosedive.
In fall 2018, US 737 Max pilots registered their concerns in a NASA database about an autopilot anomaly that could cause the plane to nosedive. There were also complaints that the plane’s instruction manual was “inadequate and almost criminally insufficient”.
In the case of the two 737 Max 8 crashes, the “maneuvering characteristics augmentation system” (MCAS) is suspected of having failed. The preliminary report on the Lion Air crash states that the pilot was unable to overcome an automatic nose-down command triggered more than 20 times. A similar malfunction happening the day before on the same plane, yet many pilots were unaware that it could occur even when the plane is flown manually. A note issued by Boeing to airlines operating the 737 Max provides guidance in the event of failure of the new safety system – the correct behavior being simply to disable it. In response to continued concerns, Boeing responded announcing a patch for the MCAS.
On March 11, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenberg defended the 737 Max and attempted to defuse speculation about its integrity and inherent safety. The following day, the FAA issued a statement asserting that the Max 8 and 9 were both airworthy. Paradoxically, the FAA simultaneously demanded that Boeing make changes to the MCAS by April at the latest. US airlines such as Southwest, United and American initially decided to continue using their 60 Boeing 737 Max, stating their confidence in the plane.
With more than 370 examples in service as of February 2019, tens of thousands of passengers travelled on the 737 Max every day, and many were increasingly concerned. There were reports of travelers attempting to change or cancel trips when they found out they would be flying on one, sometimes refusing to board. Hashtags such as #GroundBoeing737 began to spread on Twitter.
On Monday, March 11, a number of countries announced that they would immediately ban 737 Max flights, including Ethiopia, Indonesia, and China. India did so the same day, a move that affected at least two carriers with a total of 18 planes. The FAA and the US and Canadian governments continued to assert that there was no evidence of a link between the two fatal events, nor any danger of flying the 737 Max. That changed on Wednesday, March 13, when both countries finally grounded the aircraft.
Distrust and cancelled orders
With the 737 Max now grounded, some operators have demanded compensation, while others with planes on order are considering cancelling. Lion Air, which committed to buy 201 Boeing 737s in 2011, has suspended deliveries and may switch to Airbus.
In addition to the cost in human life, the two 737 Max crashes have seriously damaged Boeing’s reputation and could threaten its future. The company cannot wait until investigations establish the cause of the accidents to start to take action, something made clear by the 12% fall in its share price.
The accidents also highlight the increasing presence of technology in today’s aircraft. Sophisticated autopilots and even artificial intelligence play a greater and greater role in aircraft design and operation. Compared to the automation-heavy “fly-by-wire” systems used by Airbus, Boeing had long favored traditional controls and extensive pilot training. But this was before the 737 Max and the race for cost reductions and market share.