WASHINGTON — U.S. intelligence officials said Thursday that they believe Osama Bin Laden's son and potential heir in the Al Qaeda terrorist network was killed this year by a Predator missile strike in Pakistan.
Saad Bin Laden has been portrayed as the Bin Laden son closest to his father and most involved in Al Qaeda's activities.
However, he was never seen as an operational leader.
"There are some indications that he may be dead, but it's not 100% certain," said a U.S. counter-terrorism official. "If he is dead, Saad Bin Laden was a small player with a big name. He has never been a major operational figure."
The official declined to provide details of the drone missile strike or to discuss the evidence suggesting to officials that Saad Bin Laden might have been killed.
Saad Bin Laden, believed to be 27, had returned to Pakistan last year after being held in a form of house arrest in Iran for more than six years.
U.S. intelligence officials have said they were unable to determine whether he escaped or was released by the Iranian government. It is also unclear whether he had reunited with his father, the elusive Al Qaeda leader behind the Sept. 11 attacks.
In 2003, the U.S. and Iran held informal negotiations about a possible swap of Al Qaeda prisoners being held by Tehran's Islamic government -- including Saad Bin Laden -- for members of an Iranian opposition group that had been captured by U.S. forces in Iraq. But the two sides did not reach a deal.
Experts have speculated that Saad Bin Laden might be groomed for a leadership role in Al Qaeda largely because of his family name. The Treasury Department announced financial sanctions against him this year, describing him as someone who made "key decisions for Al Qaeda."