One of Osama Bin Laden's Sons Reported Dead After CIA Missile Strike

A U.S. counterterrorism official says that Saad bin Laden, a son of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, may have been killed, but that intelligence agencies are not certain of his fate. Video by AP
By Joby Warrick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 24, 2009

A CIA missile strike early this year is thought to have killed one of Osama bin Laden's oldest sons, a 27-year-old who had followed his father's footsteps into al-Qaeda, U.S. counterterrorism officials said Thursday.

Saad bin Laden -- one of at least 23 children fathered by the al-Qaeda founder, according to "The Bin Ladens," by Steve Coll -- was apparently killed inside Pakistan in an attack by one of the spy agency's unmanned Predator aircraft. Intelligence officials said that the attack occurred in late winter and that the younger bin Laden had not been the intended target.

"He was in the wrong place at the wrong time," said a Washington-based intelligence official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

If the death is confirmed, the son will have been the closest relative to bin Laden killed by U.S. forces since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.

U.S. officials had been trying for months to confirm the death when the first reports leaked late Wednesday. One counterterrorism official cautioned that the identification was "not 100 percent certain."

"There are some indications that he may be dead," said the official, who declined to elaborate. None of the officials interviewed would reveal precisely where and when the attack occurred.

Confirming the identities of victims of such attacks is difficult because most occur in rugged, isolated regions largely under Taliban control. Although al-Qaeda often issues "martyrdom" statements announcing the deaths of operatives, there has been no such statement for bin Laden's son.

Saad bin Laden has long been associated with the terrorist group and is thought to have spent much of the past few years under house arrest in Iran before moving to the Pakistani border region. In addition to his alleged involvement in a 2003 al-Qaeda bombing in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, he also is said to have served as a link between the terrorist group and the Quds Force, an Iranian special operations group that has attacked U.S. troops in Iraq.

Still, U.S. officials played down his role as a leader of the group.

"If he is dead, Saad bin Laden was a small player with a big name. He has never been a major operational figure," the Washington-based counterterrorism official said.

The apparent death was first reported late Wednesday on the Long War Journal blog and on the Web site of National Public Radio.

In Pakistan, government and intelligence officials appeared unaware of the death, and some questioned the report. A source linked to al-Qaeda-allied Taliban fighters, reached by telephone in North Waziristan, said he had heard nothing to confirm the report.

"The drones did kill some of our brothers but they have had no success in killing our leaders," the source said.

Staff writer Joshua Partlow and correspondent Haq Nawaz Khan in Pakistan and staff researcher Julie Tate in Washington contributed to this report.

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