News / Asia

    Paranoid, Weary Bin Laden Fought Calls for 'Islamic State'

    FILE - This undated photo shows al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.
    FILE - This undated photo shows al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.
    Ken BredemeierJeff Seldin

    Osama bin Laden predicted the demise of the Islamic State (IS), warning before his death that any effort by jihadists to declare a caliphate before defeating the West would be doomed to fail.

    The insight is one of several emerging from 113 newly declassified documents, part of a trove found by U.S. Navy SEALs during the 2011 raid on bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in which the al Qaida leader was killed.

    Written in Arabic and translated by U.S. intelligence, the notes and letters portray a hands-on administrator who had grown increasingly paranoid while struggling to keep the terror organization he founded from falling apart.

    “The movement is nothing like unified. It disagrees with itself all the time,” a senior U.S. intelligence official said of the documents, most of which date from 2009 to 2011. “You got to see the mess it was behind the scenes.”

    Osama bin Laden compound interactive graphic
    Osama bin Laden compound interactive graphic


    One of the biggest struggles was the growing schism between al Qaida’s central leadership and that of al Qaida in Iraq (AQI), the forerunner to the IS terror group, which was already expressing the strong desire to declare the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate before defeating the U.S. and the West.

    “Bin Laden argues not only is it illegitimate to do it this way… but if it’s done in this order it will fail,” the official said.

    “We should realize by now that in order to establish an Islamic State, we should destroy the international infidels because they are against an Islamic State no matter how little it is,” bin Laden wrote in a letter addressed to Abu Basir, an alias for Nasir al Wahayshi, the leader of al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

    Bin Laden also expresses more practical concerns about setting the necessary conditions for a successful Islamist state, especially given AQI’s penchant for using extreme brutality while failing to avoid attacks on fellow Muslims.

    “It would fail because it had not earned popular support,” the official added. “He’s very critical of AQI attacking locals.”

    Another senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the declassified documents said bin Laden and other core al Qaida officials also had practical concerns about long-term sustainability.

    “They were very strident about not declaring an Islamic state, particularly if you could not hold territory and provide for people,” the official said.

    This May 2, 2011, file photo shows Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, shortly after the U.S. raid in which the al-Qaida leader was killed.
    This May 2, 2011, file photo shows Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, shortly after the U.S. raid in which the al-Qaida leader was killed.

    Among other concerns was whether mujahideen could “bear the burden of running a country,” the officials said, adding bin Laden had come to the conclusion that they could not.

    And while bin Laden clearly foresaw a time when there would be an Islamic caliphate, his letters and notes provide little to indicate he saw himself playing a vital role.

    “Bin Laden never made reference to or indicated at any point that he would lead anything once this was over,” a senior intelligence official said. “He saw himself as a visionary.”


    The documents released Tuesday also show Osama bin Laden had become increasingly paranoid and restless while in hiding in Pakistan.

    In one instance, bin Laden, writing under the pseudonym Abu Abdallah, worried the U.S. might have followed his wife's visit to a dentist in Iran, and possibly implanted a tracking chip in a filling.

    "The size of the chip is about the length of a grain of wheat and the width of a fine piece of vermicelli," he wrote. At the end of the note, he instructed: "Please destroy this letter after reading it."

    In another instance, the al Qaida leader expressed concern that a tracking device might have been placed in a suitcase filled with cash in a ransom exchange for an Afghan prisoner who al-Qaida was holding.

    "It is important to get rid of the suitcase in which the funds are delivered, due to the possibility of it having a tracking chip in it," bin Laden wrote in a letter to an aide identified only as "Shaykh Mahmud."

    Worried about U.S. drones tracking al-Qaida activities, bin Laden told al-Qaida fighters they should not leave their rented house in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, "except on a cloudy overcast day."


    FILE - A translated copy of an application to join Osama bin Laden's terrorist network is seen on display in Washington, D.C., May 20, 2015. The document was among 100 released by U.S. intelligence officials.
    FILE - A translated copy of an application to join Osama bin Laden's terrorist network is seen on display in Washington, D.C., May 20, 2015. The document was among 100 released by U.S. intelligence officials.


    Losing touch

    An undated, unsigned document admitted that al-Qaida had executed four would-be volunteers on suspicion of spying, only to realize later they were probably innocent. "I did not mention this to justify what has happened," the writer said, adding, "We are in an intelligence battle, and humans are humans and no one is infallible."

    It also appears that despite bin Laden’s hands-on management style, he was also increasingly out of touch “with his organization’s capabilities” according to senior intelligence officials, even looking for pilots to carry out more attacks like the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington that killed more than 3,000 people.

    At the time, officials say, al Qaida was struggling to house and feed recruits, and even to get them into the fight.

    U.S. intelligence officials say one of the oldest documents released Tuesday was a hand-written will, dating to the time when the al Qaida founder lived in Sudan, between 1991 and 1996.

    In it, he claims to have about $29 million in personal wealth, most of which he wanted spent "on jihad, for the sake of Allah."

    The U.S. intelligence community released a first set of 103 declassified documents, as well as a list of English-language books that the terror mastermind had at his compound, in May 2015.

    Officials say they plan to disclose still more documents later this year.

    Jeff Seldin

    Jeff works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters and is national security correspondent. You can follow Jeff on Twitter at @jseldin or on Google Plus.

    You May Like

    Post-White House, Obamas to Rent Washington Mansion

    Nine-bedroom home is 3 kilometers from Oval Office, near capital's Embassy Row; rent estimated at around $22,000 a month

    Red Planet? Not so much!

    New research suggest that Mars is in a warm period between cyclical ice ages, and that during Ice Age Maximum over 500,000 years ago, the red planet was decidedly ice, and much whiter to the naked eye.

    Taj Mahal Battles New Threat from Insects

    Swarms of insects are proliferating in the heavily contaminated waters of the Yamuna River, which flows behind the 17th century monument

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    by: Guy Mullins from: South Africa
    March 03, 2016 4:59 AM
    The new book, Osama's Angel by Michael McWilliams from amazon speculates on the Abbottabad raid and its consequences.Bin Laden may have been captured and interrogated, revealing the whereabouts of his comrades. An ambitious plan to mount an even greater attack than 9-11 on New York is revealed. Al Shabaab being the organisation entrusted with carrying on the al Qaeda legacy.

    by: balaji ganapathy from: India
    March 02, 2016 1:13 AM
    9/11 is U.S.A's concern but it want whole world to take it as war on terrorism but WAIT in INDIA Pakistan supporting terror attacks happened regularly TARGETING AND KILLING INNOCENTS like 26/11 MUMBAI ATTACK,MUMBAI,DELHI,JAIPUR,HYDERABAD, PUNE,BLASTS etc etc yet it will be regional problem and it will never be mentioned as TERROR ATTACK BUT MILITANT ATTACK by WESTERN MEDIA'S DOUBLE STANDARD'S only when NATO ALLIES OR U.S.A were bombed or attacked it will be terror attack and this should be added to oxford dictionary for meaning of terrorism

    by: Anonymous
    March 01, 2016 11:02 PM
    Thanks for the clear language, rare these days.

    by: Johann Voss
    March 01, 2016 7:02 PM
    Leftist always complain about the deaths that were caused because of America's war on terror. I have but one question I want them to ask. How do you wage a war while having no civilian casualties? Does it truly shock them that civilian casualties surpassed the 3,000 that died on September 11?
    It's funny the world seemed to not care when entire populations of millions were bombed, killed and forced from homes in Germany while being doomed to Soviet enslavment in 1945.
    In Response

    by: Eric L from: New Jersey
    March 01, 2016 7:48 PM
    To which I reply the time has come for Ragnarok. The UNSC should coordinate megaton airbursts to destroy Daesh. History is punctuated by these perception-shattering events (like 9/11) and every human being alive is guilty of mass murder. Let's grow up together and become a global society that uses nuclear technology for peace.

    Al Qaeda and other networks are often little different from 'Anonymous' -they are a brand any disaffected person can take up. We need to acknowledge this and reject the narrative of more military spending toward one crusade or another.

    by: Tom from: 90210
    March 01, 2016 6:54 PM
    Anything "Made in USA" will fail. No?

    by: Zoom
    March 01, 2016 5:50 PM
    Who cares what a dead guy thinks

    by: kanaikaal irumporai
    March 01, 2016 1:32 PM
    US and Western media always shout about 3000 killed in the US, while making no balancing comparison of the numbers that were annihilated in US and Western military adventures in Afghnistan and Iraq, where the use of depleted uranium and other harmful substances not only killed children but caused birth defects to unborn. This mentality reflects that of the colonial era, when the enslaved were treated worse than animals. UN is a cover to continue this kinds of neocolonialism.
    In Response

    by: Dan from: US
    March 01, 2016 7:52 PM
    Overpopulation in Pakistan and Pakistan´s intelligence brought hell to Afganistan. Osama took the side of the Taliban and was actively involved in the killing of Masud (the Norther Aliance top fighter) before 9-11. Hand picking facts (true or not) without decent analysis will not help solve problems.
    In Response

    by: Foo Bar
    March 01, 2016 7:39 PM
    It is "Voice of America". The whole article is propaganda (and follows on the frequently-repeated disclosure that ol' binny-baby was an avid follower of Noam Chomsky, William Blum et al. and whomever else some simpleton in the State Dept decided they want to discredit).
    In Response

    by: deslok
    March 01, 2016 7:38 PM
    As far as I can tell we haven't got enough , yet !
    In Response

    by: Jim Floyd from: Seattle
    March 01, 2016 7:12 PM
    It doesn't mean squat in war. Know what happens in war? People die. It's always been this way. Collateral damage in today's war is far less than in previous conflicts due to technology advances.

    Don't like death from war? Than under no circumstance should one start or go into conflict with an entity that can reign down hell on you. No country has the ability to match what the US has in terms of military might and certainly no country that live in the stone age.
    In Response

    by: WestGuy
    March 01, 2016 7:05 PM
    How terribly naive. American citizens were never going to settle for anything less than terrible retribution when they were attacked in their homeland on 9/11. Why would they? They are indifferent to and largely ignorant of the grievances of the attackers, so there is no version of events in which such an attack would elicit any reaction but a demand for massive retaliation, however poorly directed. That might not be so worrying were it an idle threat, but they pay for a massive military complex to project power and inflict punishment should anyone be foolish enough to provoke them in such an ill-considered manner.

    The American government's responses to attacks on their interests around the globe prior to 9/11 were consistently proportional, and had Al Quaeda limited itself to those overseas targets, that pattern would likely have continued. It is difficult to imagine how that scenario would be worse for Al Quaeda or its agenda than what has happened to it since 2000. With the American electorate now on high alert regarding the dire threat they now perceive (however exaggerated) to their personal safety, their political leaders are equally on a hair trigger, desperate to avoid appearing "soft" in response to any similar future provocations. Daesh might have felt it worthwhile to attack Europe for whatever reason, but repeating that performance in the U.S. would be quite literally suicidal, and likely to lead to mass destruction and death on a scale that would AT LEAST match what happened in Iraq after 9/11.

    The Americans have lost their appetite for Middle East adventures for the time being, and many are beginning to question some of the excesses of their War on Terror. This should not confuse outside observers, as all this internal debate and second guessing will slam to a halt in the aftermath of any future attack on the American homeland. The only concerns will be efforts to lessen the burden on American troops and reduce fighting costs, and the consequences of that for future "adversaries" are not going to be pretty. Worse, the general attitude will be a perceived need to "finish the job" because the previous response was TOO WEAK, and one shudders to think what that may mean.

    If this seems unfair, aggrieved parties like yourself need to think through the realities of our time. Things may not always be this way, but they are definitely that way now. Whining about the hell that Al Qaeda brought down on themselves and innocent bystanders (more or less intentionally, having badly miscalculated the scale of the American response) won't find a sympathetic ear among those that wield American military power or the voters to whom they answer. Americans have no interest in Middle Eastern "colonialism" - but they similarly have no qualms about scorching other people's earth by the square mile if they deem those people a credible threat to the safety of Americans in their homes. Complain about that all you like - but if you cross certain red lines, you will undoubtedly soon be a red smear.
    In Response

    by: kiljoy616 from: USA
    March 01, 2016 7:00 PM
    The winners not only make history but have no reason to acknowledge mistakes. This has not changed. He who rules gets to make stuff up any way they want.
    In Response

    by: OldCarMan from: MI USA
    March 01, 2016 6:57 PM
    That doesn't explain the complete lack of progress, invention, education since 700 AD in the Middle East.

    What is stupid, is that Iran & Saudi Arabia are already caliphates. How is THAT working for them, let alone the uneducated daesh barbarians?
    In Response

    by: Unforgiven1 from: Baltimore, MD
    March 01, 2016 6:30 PM
    It's true that the U.S. has killed far more people in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries around the world in the fight against Islamic jihad than were killed in the 9/11 attacks. Do you know who has killed far more Muslims, including children, women and old men? The Islamic Jihadists. So when speaking of mentality, question first the mentality of Muslims. Because in comparison, the misery that Muslims have unleashed upon their fellow Muslims is far beyond anything that "Western military adventures" have done. Get your house in order first. After that, you will find that the West really doesn't care much about anything other than living in peace and making money.

    The history of civilization has been constant about one thing. A house divided against itself can not endure. The current state of the Islamic world is unsustainable. The Middle East is on an express highway to complete failure. The only reason the West is in the Middle East is oil. By the end of this century Middle East oil will be irrelevant. The clock is ticking on the Islamic Middle East. Once the West no longer needs the oil, the West will leave the Middle East to its own devices. If the tribalism and sectarianism is not resolved by then, the once mighty, beautiful and wise civilization that Islam once represented will go the way of ancient Egypt and Babylonia.
    In Response

    March 01, 2016 6:21 PM
    It would seem tragic except for the eternal rewards such as access to 72 virgins. But I have always wondered where Mohamed manages to find so many.
    In Response

    by: Anonymous
    March 01, 2016 6:17 PM
    Interesting. Why was the US in Iraq or Afghanistan???
    In Response

    by: TruthSayer from: US
    March 01, 2016 6:17 PM
    Nice try...depleted uranium cannot cause harm to a human unless ingested. Were children walking around eating the spent shells?

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora