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Bin Laden from Beyond the Grave

Samara Greenberg

One year after Osama bin Laden’s death, the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) at West Point has published 17 de-classified documents captured during the Abbottabad raid — a small sample of the documents found at the compound. The released documents, totaling 175 pages, are internal al-Qaeda communications written by the terrorist group’s leaders, including bin Laden. The dates of the documents range from September 2006 to April 2011.

Titled “Letters from Abbottabad,” the CTC’s report provides a unique glimpse into the inner workings of al-Qaeda following 9/11. According to the report, “the most compelling story” gleaned from the documents is bin Laden’s “frustration with regional jihadi groups and his seeming inability to exercise control over their actions and public statements”. The documents show that “al-Qaeda Central” under bin Laden struggled to control the organization’s growing number of affiliates. The terrorist leader was “burdened” by those affiliates’ incompetence when it came to winning public support and planning operations that often resulted in the deaths of innocent Muslim bystanders. Bin Laden urged such groups to focus on attacking the U.S. — “our desired goal” — as opposed to Arab governments or forces.

Residents watch the demolition of Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. (Photo: AP)

Illustrating the ever-changing strategy of the terrorist movement, bin Laden shifted focus in the wake of the Arab Uprising — what he called a “formidable event”. In a letter written in April 2011, days before his death, bin Laden instructed senior al-Qaeda ideologues to concentrate their work on the Arab World. He told followers to advise the revolutionary movements, and spread the “correct understanding.” He continued, “one of the most important steps of the oncoming stage is inciting the people who have not revolted yet, and encouraging them to get against the rulers”.

Focusing attacks on the so-called near enemy in the Arab World was long touted by now-leader Ayman al-Zawahiri — pointing to a direction the movement may be taking with bin Laden’s demise.

Also revealed in the released documents is that bin Laden was dying his graying hair with Just for Men dye and taking Viagra. He also created units in Afghanistan and Pakistan to attack planes carrying President Barack Obama and Gen. David Petraeus with the purpose of assassinating them. But he didn’t think much of Vice President Joe Biden, stating that “Biden is totally unprepared for that post [the presidency]” and would “lead the US into a crisis”.

All this information and more — released in just 17 of the more than 6,000 documents taken from Abbottabad. Although acutely dangerous and not always possible, the bin Laden letters illustrate the type of information that can be discovered from staging ground assaults as opposed to the current policy of killing terrorists from the air only with drones.