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Bin Laden Son Plays Key Role in Al Qaeda

Many experts believe, for example, that he also had direct involvement in coordinating a series of bombings on May 16 that killed 45 people in Casablanca, Morocco.

Kenneth Katzman, a terrorism analyst for the Congressional Research Service, said Saad "is touted as his father's stand-in. Because his father is incommunicado, a lot of people are looking to Saad to give them direct instructions."

While there is broad agreement that Saad bin Laden's role within al Qaeda has grown increasingly important in the past six months, not everyone agrees he is now a senior operational commander. One U.S. intelligence official said Saad is "more of a player than most of the offspring, but not that significant." Osama Bin Laden has more than two dozen children with five wives.

But European intelligence officials and independent analysts said Saad bin Laden, while not the most important al Qaeda leader, is helping to make key operational decisions and is an important part of al Qaeda's logistical network. Some analysts believe he was very close to Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, who was captured in March.

"Saad is capable of mounting operations against the West because he knows the West very well," said Rohan Gunaratna, director of terrorism research at the Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies in Singapore. "Saad has been very close to his father, almost functioning as his bodyguard."

Saad bin Laden is one of the eldest sons of bin Laden and his first wife, Najwa Ghanem, a Syrian who is also the terrorist leader's first cousin. The couple had 11 children, but Osama bin Laden has taken at least four other wives and divorced one, according to biographies in the Arab media and U.S. officials. Islam allows men to take as many as four wives at one time.

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