, WASHINGTON, Jul 23 – One of Osama bin Laden’s sons may have been killed by a US missile strike in Pakistan earlier this year, National Public Radio reported.
Saad bin Laden, the Al-Qaeda leader’s third-oldest son, is "believed" to have been killed by Hellfire missiles fired from a US Predator drone "sometime this year," the US broadcaster said on its website.
The United States has put Pakistan at the heart of the fight against Al-Qaeda. The US military and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) are the only forces that deploy drones to the region.
US spy agencies are "80 to 85 percent" sure that Saad bin Laden is dead, a senior counterterrorism official told NPR, while acknowledging that it was difficult to be completely sure without a body on which DNA tests could be conducted.
Officials at the CIA and the US Central Command, which oversees US military operations in the Horn of Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, told AFP they could not immediately confirm the report.
Earlier this year, former US spy chief Mike McConnell said the younger bin Laden, who is alleged to have worked for Al-Qaeda in Iran, either escaped or was released from house arrest in Iran and was likely in Pakistan.
Also in January, in the dying days of the administration of president George W. Bush, the US Treasury Department froze the assets of Saad bin Laden and three other Al-Qaeda operatives.
According to the Treasury, Saad bin Laden, who is believed to be in his 20s, was part of a small group of Al-Qaeda operatives who helped manage the organization from Iran, where he was arrested in 2003.
He also allegedly helped facilitate communication between Al-Qaeda’s number two leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the Quds Force, an elite unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, following an Al-Qaeda attack on the US embassy in Yemen in 2008.
Saad bin Laden was active in Al-Qaeda but not a major player, the official said, adding he was simply "in the wrong place at the wrong time," having not been important enough to be targeted personally.
NPR said it was not known whether Saad bin Laden was close to the location of his father, who is believed to be hiding in the rugged mountainous tribal belt along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, when he died.
"We make a big deal out of him because of his last name," the official said.