The physical resemblance to his father is evident and chilling.
Hamza bin Laden — the favored son of Osama bin Laden — has kept his image hidden from the public since he was a young child, despite taking on an increasingly vocal role in al Qaeda propaganda in recent years.
But video released by the Central Intelligence Agency shows, for the first time, images of Hamza bin Laden as a young adult — the most recent depiction to date of the man a resurgent al Qaeda could be grooming for a leadership role, one senior counterterrorism official told CNN.
The video is part of a massive collection of materials seized during the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in 2011 and released by the agency on Wednesday.
The Foundation for Defense of Democracies is analyzing the videos and more than 500,000 other files released by the CIA.
Wearing a white robe with gold trim, Hamza is seen at times smiling sheepishly as children hover in and out of the frame.
Officials said the images are from his wedding, which is believed to have taken place before 2009 in Iran.
“In the video, Hamza is being married to the daughter of a senior al Qaeda leader,” according to Bill Roggio of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “Osama bin Laden, in his documents, is very interested in the growth of Hamza as a young man.”
Osama bin Laden was in hiding at the time of his son’s wedding, but analysts told CNN that he was very eager to see the video and made sure that senior al Qaeda members were in attendance.
Hamza bin Laden was introduced to militant audiences as a child — often featured in al Qaeda propaganda videos holding his father’s automatic rifle, reading a poem or engaging in militant training with other young boys. He is now believed to be in his mid- to late 20s.
Al Qaeda has increasingly called upon the son to help spread their propaganda message in recent years, but despite indications that Hamza bin Laden’s profile within the terrorist group was on the rise, his image has been hidden from public view — until now.
US officials said Hamza was at his father’s side right before and after the 9/11 attacks, but then went on the run — relocating to Iran with other members of the bin Laden family, according to FDD analysts.
While he and his family were initially welcomed into Iran after 9/11, their presence soon became a point of tension between al Qaeda and the Iranian regime.
Hamza studied al Qaeda’s militant ideology while under house arrest in Iran after the 9/11 terror attacks, Ali Soufan, a former FBI agent who tracked al Qaeda, told CNN earlier this year.
In one letter to his father, he said he was “forged from steel,”and ready to “march with the armies of the Muajahadeen,” Soufan added.
Earlier this year, Hamza released a 10-minute audio message calling on followers to attack Jews, Americans, Westerners and even Russians, in lone-wolf-style attacks, using whatever means are easily available.
“If you are able to pick up a firearm, well and good; if not, the options are many,” the voice says, in a video obtained by SITE Intelligence Group.
“He has been trying to copy his dad, the tone of his dad, and also to copy and repeat the messages and terminologies used by his dad in the past,” Soufan told CNN at the time of the recording’s release.
“Hamza at this point is being prepared for senior leadership in al Qaeda, to play a role down the road in leading the organization, and probably in unifying the global jihadi movement,” he said. “He had a lot of charisma, and he had enormous public-speaking abilities at a very young age.”
A senior US counterterrorism official told CNN that al Qaeda could be grooming Hamza for future leadership roles and some analysts said he may be in line to become the terror group’s next leader.
“Because he is Bin Laden’s preferred son. Because he has the right name,” said Matthew Levitt of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “He’s got the blood in his veins.”
In a 2015 recording, al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri introduced the younger bin Laden as one of al-Qaeda’s “lions.”
Previously reported documents recovered after the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan in 2011 showed that Osama bin Laden wanted his son to join him, a US counter-terrorism official told CNN earlier this year.
But by the time of the raid, the two had not been reunited — although Hamza’s brother, Khalid, was at the compound, and was killed along with their father.
Al Qaeda has often been overshadowed by the brutality and shock value of ISIS in recent years, but US officials have said they are still a potent and durable organization, even as it has become more dispersed throughout the Middle East.
The terror group has expanded into war-torn countries like Syria, Somalia, Yemen and Libya.