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Son Of 9/11 Mastermind Osama Bin Laden Killed By U.S. Counterterrorism Strike, White House Says

WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — The terrorist son of infamous al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden -- the man who planned the Sept. 11 terror attacks -- has been killed by a U.S. counterterrorism operation, the White House announced Saturday.

In a brief statement from the Trump Administration, officials said Hamza bin Laden had been eliminated during a strike in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.

The younger bin Laden had also reportedly become a prominent figure within the terrorist organization -- following in the footsteps of his now-dead father.

American officials have said there are indications that the CIA, not the U.S. military, conducted the strike. The CIA declined comment on whether the agency was involved.

Hamza bin Laden's death "not only deprives al-Qaida of important leadership skills and the symbolic connection to his father, but undermines important operational activities of the group," the White House statement said.

Authorities added that Osama bin Laden's son "was responsible for planning and dealing with various terrorist groups."

A U.S. official familiar with the case who spoke on condition of anonymity about intelligence-gathering said bin Laden was killed in the past 18 months; adding that such a high-profile death can take a long time. The official declined to say what led the U.S. to report bin Laden's death with certainty.

The younger bin Laden had been viewed as an eventual heir to the leadership of al-Qaida, and the group's leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, had praised him in a 2015 video that appeared on jihadi websites, calling him a "lion from the den of al-Qaida." Bin Laden's death leaves Zawahiri with the challenge of finding a different successor.

The U.S. government in February said it was offering $1 million for help tracking down Hamza bin Laden as part of the State Department's Rewards for Justice program.

He was named a "specially designated global terrorist" in January 2017, and he had released audio and video messages calling for attacks against the U.S. and its allies. To mark one 9/11 anniversary, al-Qaida superimposed a childhood photo of him over a photo of the World Trade Center.

Video released by the CIA in 2017 that was seized during the 2011 U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden showed Hamza bin Laden with a trimmed mustache but no beard at his wedding. Previous images have only shown him as a child.

As al-Qaida's leader, Osama bin Laden oversaw attacks that included the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, as well as the bombing of the USS Cole off Yemen. He and others plotted and executed the 2001 attacks against the United States that led to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. U.S. Navy SEALs killed the elder bin Laden in a raid on a house in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in 2011.

MORE: New York City And Nation Mark 18 Years Since 9/11 Terror Attacks

Nearly 3,000 men, women and children were killed at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and on United Airlines Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001.

Although it's been 18 years, in many ways the wound still feels fresh, and remains of those killed are still being identified.

Officials say two thirds of all World Trade Center responders have at least one certified 9/11-related health condition. After a battle on Capitol Hill this summer, the Victims Compensation Fund passed through 2092.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, a U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan sought to topple the Taliban, an ally of al-Qaida, and seize the elder bin Laden. He escaped and split from his family as he crossed into Pakistan. Hamza was 12 when he saw his father for the last time.

Hamza and his mother reportedly followed other al-Qaida members into Pakistan and then Iran, where other al-Qaida leaders hid them, according to experts and analysis of documents seized after U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Iran later put the al-Qaida members on its soil into custody.

The younger terrorist leader hadn't been heard from since a message in March 2018, in which he threatened the rulers of Saudi Arabia.

(© Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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