News

Bin Laden Documents Reveal Splits in al-Qaida

Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is shown with top lieutenant, Ayman Al-Zawahri, in an image taken from a videotape broadcast on Al-Jazeera, October 2001. (file photo)
Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is shown with top lieutenant, Ayman Al-Zawahri, in an image taken from a videotape broadcast on Al-Jazeera, October 2001. (file photo)
Gary Thomas

A selected set of documents seized from the compound of Osama bin Laden last year sheds new light on the terrorist leader. The documents highlight what was, at times, an apparently difficult relationship between al-Qaida's core group, headed by bin Laden, and its affiliates.

The documents, analyzed and released by the U.S. Military Academy [the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point], show bin Laden in his final years as frustrated with the strategy and tactics of the franchise al-Qaida groups in the Middle East and North Africa.

Nelly Lahoud, one of the authors of an analysis accompanying the released documents, said the papers challenge the widely held assumption of strong unity between bin Laden and the core group of al-Qaida's leaders holed up in Pakistan with him, and their affiliates elsewhere.

“However, bin Laden does come across as outmoded by the new generation of regional jihadi groups. He doesn’t seem to be seeing eye to eye [in full agreement with them]. He’s more methodical in terms of the operations that he would like to plan, whereas he sees them as being kind of too risky, and they’re more enthusiastic than they should be with respect to their operations,” said Lahoud.

Correspondence between bin Laden, associates

The 17 documents released Thursday - 175 pages in the original Arabic - are in the form of letters between bin Laden and his associates between 2006 and 2011. The three longest and most revealing letters are by bin Laden himself, written between 2010 and late April of 2011 - just one week before a raiding party of U.S. Navy commandos killed bin Laden [on May 2, 2011, in Pakistan].

Lahoud cautions that the al-Qaida letters now made public are only a tiny window into al-Qaida and the terrorist leader who was once the world’s most wanted man. In fact, she said, it is not even clear if the affiliate groups ever received the bin Laden letters. Nevertheless, bin Laden is clearly displeased that al-Qaida affiliates undercut their cause by staging attacks that killed fellow Muslims.

Lahoud said bin Laden wanted the affiliate groups to concentrate their efforts on the United States, not on their home countries, where they need public support.

“One of the interesting metaphors he uses is this malignant tree. He wants to focus on the trunk of the tree. He believes the United States is the trunk of the tree, whereas all the other branches are kind of like the apostate Muslim regimes that he considers to be apostates, and NATO or Britain," she said. "And he says we really shouldn’t waste our time on the branches. We should really just try to get rid of the trunk of the tree. Once the trunk is off, the rest will fall.”

Bin Laden often critical of fellow terrorists

One letter has the al-Qaida leader refusing a request by its Somalia-based affiliate al-Shabab for formal union with al-Qaida central. Al-Shabab and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula [AQAP], based in Yemen, also were scolded by bin Laden for seeking his blessing to declare an Islamic state in their respective countries.

Bin Laden also comes across as sharply critical of fellow jihadists like Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born AQAP figure killed in a U.S. drone strike last year, and the Pakistani Taliban. He was dismissive of lone-wolf attackers in general. Specifically, he singled out Faisal Shahzad, the man who launched the failed 2010 bomb attack in New York City’s Times Square.

Lahoud said bin Laden was critical of Shahzad for, of all things, violating his U.S. citizenship oath.

“He doesn’t mind people who already have citizenship to mount attacks against the United States. But he does mind that those who have acquired citizenship, and therefore have sworn an oath not to threaten the United States, violate their oath,” she said.

Stuart Caudill, a co-author of the report analyzing the documents, said there is no evidence of any alliance between Iran and al-Qaida. In fact, he said, the relationship between Iran and al-Qaida was sometimes even antagonistic because of Iran’s detention of al-Qaida operatives and some members of bin Laden’s family.  

Remaining questions, unfulfilled evil

One key unanswered question is how bin Laden managed to evade detection while living for years in Abbottabad, a city not far from Islamabad that has many associations with the Pakistani military. Caudill said the letters provide no answers.

“It’s inconclusive as to what relationship, if any, but based on the documents there’s no references to institutional Pakistani support by members of the government or the security services," said Caudill. "And really the only references to Pakistani intelligence are to avoiding their monitoring, making sure that [al-Qaida hideouts] are not discovered by Pakistani intelligence.”

Lahoud said bin Laden seemed to be genuinely pleased by the Arab Spring, which was then in its early stages. In one letter dated just a week before he died, he called for education and media outreach in the region to make new converts to the jihadi cause.

“His plan was to incite the people who had not yet revolted and exhort them to rebel against the rulers. But mainly we see he wanted to educate and warn Muslims from those who might tempt them to settle for half-solutions. So he doesn’t want people to be sort of tempted by the political process, like the Muslim Brotherhood.”

In another letter, Adam Gadahn, a U.S.-born extremist who calls himself "the American al-Qaida," advised his colleagues in the terrorist network's leadership to disassociate al-Qaida from any other group that mounted an attack in al-Qaida's name without consulting the core leadership. Gadahn also proposed that al-Qaida should mark the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington in a way that would burnish the terrorists' reputation and stature. Bin Laden longed to replicate the 2001 attacks, but he never did.


This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Mike
May 03, 2012 5:08 PM
The sad fact is that OBL had no understanding of love for his fellow man. He only loved a certain subset of man. Everyone else was a target for his hate. This violates modern progressive morals and must appeal to the unstable or the ignorant. Perhaps education can mitigate some of this attitude. And No, Jon Worthington, this is not a hoax.

by: Jon Worthington
May 03, 2012 2:11 PM
Wow, what a hoax, that does not look like bin laden, it took US so long to release these documents because they wanted to plot a perfect story after the 'dead bin laden' news. One would only laugh at these idiots behind it.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs