WASHINGTON – Saad bin Laden, a son of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, may have been killed in a U.S. airstrike, U.S. officials said Thursday.
The son was likely killed in Pakistan in the last several months, approximately in late spring, said a counterterrorism official, one of three Obama administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence.
Though many in the intelligence community believe he is dead, they can’t be 100 per cent certain because no body or DNA evidence was recovered to prove it, one official said.
The U.S. has carried out more than 45 missile attacks with drones in Pakistan’s border region since last August, most targeting foreign al-Qaida militants and those accused of violence in neighbouring Afghanistan. Saad was not considered a heavy hitter in his father’s organization and was not the target of the strike, but rather was killed during a strike intended for someone else, National Public Radio said, quoting unidentified officials.
Saad was born in 1982 and is one of 19 children Osama bin Laden is thought to have, officials have said.
The younger bin Laden was believed to have fled Afghanistan shortly after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001 that routed his father from safe haven there and overthrew the Taliban regime.
Officials have said he went to Iran and was held under a form of house arrest from 2003 to 2008, before turning up in Pakistan, where his father has reportedly been in hiding somewhere in the ungoverned border region near Afghanistan.
In January, the Treasury slapped financial sanctions on the younger bin Laden and three other al-Qaida figures. In announcing a freeze on their assets held under U.S. jurisdiction, Treasury also said that people from the United States would be barred from engaging in financial transactions with them.
Michael McConnell, director of national intelligence at the time, told a news conference that the move to Pakistan made Saad more vulnerable to being captured or killed by the U.S. or its allies.
“It is better in my world if they are in places that we have access,” McConnell said. Pakistan is a U.S. ally in the struggle against Islamic extremists, while the United States has no diplomatic relations with Iran.