U.S. Downplays Bhutto Claim Against bin Laden Kin

In her upcoming posthumous autobiography, former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has fingered Hamza bin Laden, a 16-year-old son of the al Qaeda mastermind, as one of the "designated assassins" who was trying to kill her.

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In her upcoming posthumous autobiography, former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has fingered Hamza bin Laden, a 16-year-old son of the al Qaeda mastermind, as one of the "designated assassins" who was trying to kill her.

The accusation sparked some speculation in the press that Hamza was being groomed for an al Qaeda leadership role. But in Washington, the theory appears to be gaining little traction.

"He is too young to be calling the shots on any sort of operation," says one U.S. official.

Hamza is Osama bin Laden's youngest of six sons and was born to his father's most recent wife, placing him low in the family hierarchy. While he is believed to have spent time with his father in hiding somewhere in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region, he is not believed to have much influence.

U.S. and Pakistani officials continue to say that Baitullah Mehsud, a leading Pakistani tribal militant and Taliban ally, remains the top suspect in the Bhutto attack.

Bhutto did also name Mehsud as a suspect in her book, Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy & the West, which will be published on February 12.  Excerpts from the book appeared in the Sunday Times of London over the weekend.

Kevin Whitelaw