They are already calling him ‘Sheik.’ It’s an honorific title, one that means ‘chief’ or ‘leader’. It was the same title they also gave to his father, Osama bin Laden, before he was killed by US Navy Seals during the now famous raid in 2011 on the compound in Pakistan where he was hiding.

Ever since his father’s death, Hamza bin Laden, favourite son of the former al-Qaeda leader, has been groomed to take over where his father left off.

That much became even more evident last week as the CIA released a trove of documents recovered from Osama bin Laden’s compound that included more recent pictures and videos of Hamza as an adult.

Until now the heir to the al-Qaeda leadership had only ever been seen in childhood photographs, which were used as propaganda material by the terror group. Images of Hamza as an adult have never been released by al-Qaeda, the organisation’s leaders clearly fearing for the young bin Laden’s own safety.

In the new footage Hamza is seen during his wedding to a woman that analysts say is the daughter of another top al-Qaeda leader. Though the video was shot some years ago when he was perhaps 17 or 18, Hamza, who is now, 28, bears a striking resemblance to his father and is seen flanked by several top al-Qaeda leaders.

According to Ali Soufan a Lebanese-American former FBI agent who was involved in a number of high-profile anti-terrorism cases, and is author of a book on Hamza, the young bin Laden was raised by al-Qaeda’s top leadership while his father was in hiding. Bin Laden is said to have asked his advisers to monitor his son, and the feedback he got was positive.

“Bin Laden was thinking more and more, 'This kid can be something,'” Soufan said last week in response to the latest images of Hamza.

The footage of the young bin Laden, along with the other half a million files released by the CIA, have once again focused attention on the current state of al- Qaeda and its role in the global jihadist network.

While it might seem like only yesterday that the Islamist terror group first made its bloody mark on the world, the arrival of 2018 will in fact mark the thirtieth anniversary of its founding.

The release of the latest files comes, too, at a time when al-Qaeda itself, long overshadowed in terms of international headlines by jihadist rival the Islamic State group, seems poised to reassert its role as the pre-eminent Islamist terror organisation.

For the past three years IS has laid claim to be the leading the global jihadist movement, but its current decline in Iraq and Syria, according to intelligence and security analysts, looks set to be al-Qaeda’s gain.

Some security officials worry, with good cause, that over the past three years while IS has preoccupied global attention, al-Qaeda has been quietly regrouping and rebuilding its core base and network.

While IS has borne the brunt of counter-terrorism operations in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere, al-Qaeda has largely sat back and let its jihadist rivals soak up the punishment while quietly busying itself with consolidating its position.

Writing in an online article for the prominent US think- tank, The Brooking Institution, analysts Daniel L Byman and Jennifer R Williams point to the fundamental differences between the two groups.

To begin with, say the analysts, al-Qaeda and IS differ in terms of who they see as their main enemy. They also differ as to the strategies and tactics to use in attacking that enemy and which social issues and other concerns to emphasise.

“Although the ultimate goal of al-Qaeda is to overthrow the corrupt 'apostate' regimes in the Middle East and replace them with 'true' Islamic governments, al-Qaeda’s primary enemy is the United States, which it sees as the root cause of the Middle East’s problem,” Byman and Williams say.

This has become known as the al-Qaeda’s 'far enemy' strategy as opposed to IS’s 'near enemy' one. While IS has called for and carried out global jihadist terror attacks, it primarily has concerned itself with what it sees as these apostate regimes in the Arab world, namely the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria and the Haider al-Abadi regime in Iraq.

The term moderate is not one immediately associated with jihadist terror groups, but al-Qaeda has also cleverly adopted a strategy whereby it has presented itself as more even handed than IS.

IS has consistently pursued an uncompromising strategy of sectarianism, barbarity, and conquest. Shi’ites and other so-called non-believers, labelled apostates, were targeted with extreme methods of murder, from mass executions to public beheadings, rape, and symbolic crucifixions.

While al-Qaeda’s propaganda might still be riddled with derogatory references to Shi’ites, it nevertheless generally favours a much more measured approach than IS, allowing it to garner allies where IS has increasingly alienated communities on the ground.

In al-Qaeda’s eyes, Shia Muslims are still apostates, but mass killing sprees against them have often been viewed by the group’s leadership as being detrimental to their broader jihadist strategy.

“Why kill ordinary Shia considering that they are forgiven because of their ignorance?” once wrote al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, arguing that this was a distraction from targeting the Americans.

Right now, of course, as concern grows over al- Qaeda’s resurgence, it is precisely this fear of the group escalating its attacks on Americans and other Western targets that is preoccupying many intelligence and security agencies.

One of the most worrying developments is the way in which al-Qaeda’s ranks are being swollen by IS fighters fleeing and retreating in places like Iraq and Syria, as their strongholds are retaken by government forces and their militia allies in those countries. Just over a month or so ago, on several nights in September, some 10,000 men, women and children fled areas under IS control, hurrying through fields in northern Syria and risking fire from government troops to reach a province held by a Syrian al-Qaeda-affiliate group known as Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS).

For an untold number of these experienced jihadis fleeing with the civilians the escape to Idlib province marked a homecoming of sorts, an opportunity to continue waging war alongside an extremist group that shares much of the Islamic State’s ideology and has benefited from its prolonged downfall.

According to Fawaz Gerges, a professor at the London School of Economics and author of a book on the history of IS, al-Qaeda will welcome these IS members “with open arms. “ Those are battle-hardened with potent field experience,” Gerges warns.

Al-Qaeda’s Syrian offshoot developed in 2011 against the backdrop of Syria’s civil war. The group, then known as Jabhat al-Nusra or the al-Nusra Front, quickly emerged as one of the most determined rebel movements fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Despite formally severing ties with al-Qaeda last year and repeatedly changing its name, the group now known as Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) is still widely seen as a loyal affiliate of the global network that carried out the 9/11 attacks.

“HTS is emerging as the most formidable fighting force in Syria and is attracting more and more jihadists, foot soldiers and leaders, from other groups inside the country,” says Emile Nakhleh, a former member of the CIA’s Senior Intelligence Service and contributor to The Cipher Brief, an online security platform.

“HTS’ three-pronged strategy of appearing more Syrian, more focused on Assad, and more anti-Shia is enhancing its credibility and legitimacy, and propelling it to the forefront of the anti-Assad jihad in Syria,” insists Nakhleh.

This rapid growth of HTS has been ringing alarm bells among many within the intelligence, security and analysis community.

“I worry that al-Qaeda has taken advantage of the past three or four years to very quietly rebuild while IS has preoccupied our attention,” said Bruce Hoffman, head of Georgetown University’s security studies programme

“This is in al-Qaeda’s DNA, to either absorb, wait out or forcibly deal with any of their rivals so that they’re the last man standing… the growth of the HTS in the past year has really astonished me,” Hoffman said recently.

The fears of Hoffman and others are further borne out by reports that two Iraqi intelligence officers in Baghdad have confirmed that bin Laden’s successor, and the present leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahri, sent an envoy to Syria to convince IS fighters to defect and join his group.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to brief reporters, said this might have been the reason behind an audiotape released by IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on September 28, in which he ordered his fighters not to “retreat, run away, negotiate or surrender”.

And so it seems that as IS crumbles, al-Qaeda grows and becomes resurgent. Adding further to these worries are concerns over the precise whereabouts of many IS foreign fighters who have fled the battlefields in Iraq and Syria.

To date, many remain unaccounted for despite the fall of major IS strongholds in Iraq like Mosul, Tal Afar and Hawija and, in Syria recently, the city of Raqqa.

Could it be that these IS fighters have joined HTS and if so have effectively entered the al-Qaeda network?

Given its still prime strategic aim of attacking the 'far enemy' such foreign recruits could prove immensely useful should al-Qaeda choose to escalate its overseas terror campaign and try to recreate spectaculars like 9/11.

According to the most recent research undertaken by the Soufan Centre and the Global Security Network, brought together in a joint report entitled Beyond the Caliphate: Foreign Fighters and the Threat of Returnees, official figures from 48 countries published just this month show that at least 2,000 former IS members have returned to western countries.

So far, only seven are known to have returned to the United States, but around 400 have gone back to Britain and around 300 each to both France and Germany. Many others remain unaccounted for and could now well have joined the ranks of al-Qaeda.

Just last month Andrew Parker, the Director General of MI5, said that the threat from Islamist-inspired terror was at the “highest tempo” he had seen in his 34-year career. Thirty years on from its founding al-Qaeda may well be poised for contributing once again to that tempo.

Al-Qaeda’s well proven ability to establish widespread political legitimacy among jihadists through a refurbished image could very well propel the group through its third decade and beyond.

Over the last few years, al-Qaeda has concentrated on building its long-term support in the Islamic world. To that end it has benefited from a number of new so called ‘host environments’, among them Syria, Libya and Yemen. But as al-Qaeda expert Jason Burke has pointed out, this may change.

“No one has forgotten how 9/11 grabbed global attention. If al-Qaeda decides to target the 'far enemy,' the West – rather than Islamic opponents – it will be well placed,” he warned earlier this year.

More recently the Soufan group security consultancy echoed Burke’s observations, indicating the possible direction in which al-Qaeda might be heading.

“It now appears Zawahiri [the al-Qaeda leader] is seeking to consolidate the terror network and return the group to its heyday as the vanguard of a global movement,” it concluded.

Should al-Qaeda’s leadership indeed be aiming to do just that it would have no shortage of new recruits. Nor indeed will it be without a new generation of leader. Hamza bin Laden is more than ready to follow in his father’s footsteps.