Osama bin Laden's son Saad was likely killed by an American missile strike in Pakistan earlier this year, U.S. National Public Radio reported late Wednesday, citing U.S. intelligence officials.
Saad bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader's third-oldest son, is "believed" to have been killed by Hellfire missiles fired from a U.S. Predator drone "sometime this year," the broadcaster reported on its website.
The United States has put Pakistan at the heart of the fight against Qaeda. The U.S. military and the Central Intelligence Agency are the only forces that deploy drones to the region.
American 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 could not be reaached for confirmation and the U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in the Horn of Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, told Al Arabiya they had heard the same report but coud not confirm it since they were waiting to find out more information.
Saad bin Laden, believed to be in his late 20s, was active in Qaeda but not a major player, the official told NPR, adding that he was not important enough to have been targeted personally.
Saad was "in the wrong place at the wrong time," said the official. "We make a big deal out of him because of his last name."
Former National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell confirmed reports by U.S. intelligence officials in January that Saad, a prominent figure in the murky relationship between Iran and al-Qaeda, was believed to have gone to Pakistan after spending a number of years under house arrest in Iran.
Also in January, in the last days of President George W. Bush's administration, the U.S. Treasury Department froze the assets of Saad bin Laden and three other Qaeda operatives.
According to the Treasury, Saad bin Laden, who is believed to be in his 20s, was part of a small group of Qaeda operatives who helped manage the organization from Iran, where he was arrested in 2003.
He also allegedly helped facilitate communication between Qaeda's number two leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the Quds Force, an elite unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, following an Qaeda attack on the U.S. embassy in Yemen in 2008.
NPR said it was unknown 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.
American forces have stepped up their drone attacks in Pakistan since last September, targeting Taliban and Qaeda-linked militants in areas bordering Afghanistan like the Swat Valley.
The United States has carried out nearly 50 such air strikes since the beginning of last year, killing about 470 people, including many foreign militants as well as civilians, according to a tally of reports from Pakistani intelligence agents, district government officials and residents.