Bin Laden's son among top targets for US

Osama bin Laden's son Saad has become a rising star in his father's terrorist network, gaining so much new authority that US counter-terrorism officials now consider him among their top two dozen targets in al-Qaida.

Saad bin Laden has provided financial and other logistical support for several al-Qaida operations, said one official.

Saad, a Saudi like his father, is thought to be in his early 30s, and is one of Osama bin Laden’s eldest sons, officials said. Also, like his father, he is thought to be in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.

Osama bin Laden, himself in his mid-to-late-40s, has at least 23 children by numerous wives, officials said.

“Some of them share his ideology,” one counterterrorism official said. “Saad is definitely a believer.”

US officials have no evidence that Saad bin Laden played a role in the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon, but he is believed to have provided support for al-Qaida’s April 11 bombing of a synagogue in Tunisia that left 19 dead, most of them German tourists.

It marked al-Qaida’s first successful terrorist operation outside of the Afghanistan region since the September 11 attacks.

Al-Qaida leader Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the suspected mastermind of the September 11 attacks, is believed to be a close associate of Saad bin Laden. Mohammed _ who is thought to outrank Saad bin Laden in al-Qaida’s pecking order _ also has been linked to the Tunisia bombing, US officials have said.

Officials attributed Saad’s importance to simple blood ties: when most of the world is hunting for him, Osama bin Laden can trust his son.

He began his rise last year as the United States went to war on al-Qaida in Afghanistan and elsewhere, officials said.

It has accelerated even as the terrorist network decentralised its power structure. This move, under way since earlier this year, gives commanders in the field more authority to conduct terrorist operations without guidance from bin Laden’s inner circle.

However, officials have no evidence that Saad bin Laden is positioned to take over al-Qaida in the event of his father’s death or capture.

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