Like father, like son, assert U.S., European and Arab intelligence agencies who believe one of Osama bin Laden’s youngest children is beginning to call the shots at the Iranian branch of al-Qaida.

Saad bin Laden is one of an estimated 400 operatives of the terror network recruited and protected by Tehran’s hard-line clerics, according to the Washington Post. Tehran’s elected government, headed by the reformist President Mohammed Khatami, does not appear to have control over this group, called the Jerusalem Force.

The Post reports the 24-year-old bin Laden is computer savvy and fluent in English. His father groomed him for a leadership role during the fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The younger bin Laden also accompanied his father to Sudan in 1991 and back to Afghanistan in 1996.

With his father forced to lie low since the launch of the U.S war on terror in Afghanistan, it appears the son is attempting to fill his father’s shoes.

According to the paper, Saad bin Laden might have cut his teeth in his leadership role with the plotting of the May 12 suicide bombings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and the May 16 blasts in Casablanca, Morocco. Prior to these attacks, Saad bin Laden is thought to have provided support for al-Qaida’s April 11 bombing of a synagogue in Tunisia that killed 19 people.

While Saad bin Laden is increasingly seen taking over the reins, lieutenants Saif al-Adel and Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah continue to be designated the actual leaders of al-Qaida in Iran.

In his 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush named Iran along with Iraq and North Korea as being part of an “axis of evil.”

Iran was described as “the most active state sponsor of terrorism in 2002” in the State Department’s most recent report on terrorism. This, likely due to its alleged support of anti-Israeli groups Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad.

“While it has detained and turned over to foreign governments a number of al-Qaida members, other al-Qaida members have found virtual safe haven there and may even be receiving protection from elements of the Iranian government,” the report concluded.

“This is the problem with Iran. The people who we can deal with can’t deliver, they can’t lead eight ducks across the street. And the guys who can deliver, they’re not interested,” Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, remarked in an interview last month to the San Francisco Chronicle regarding failed U.S. and Saudi efforts to end Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism.

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