Documents found at Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan reveal an al-Qaida leader who had come to feel marginalized and frustrated with actions taken by affiliated terror groups he had helped inspire.
The man responsible for the 9/11 terror attacks is seen struggling to limit attacks that killed mostly Muslims, and to keep the international jihad movement focused on what he viewed as the main target: the United States.
The glimpse inside this secretive organization comes just after the first anniversary of the killing of bin Laden in Abbotabad, Pakistan, by a Navy Seal team.
That team gathered up everything it could find, from electronic documents to pocket litter. Over the past year, intelligence officials have been combing through thousands of documents, hoping to better understand al-Qaida.
On Thursday, researchers at West Point's Combating Terrorism Center released 17 documents it had translated that have been declassified.
They include lengthy letters between bin Laden and other terror leaders. The center also prepared an analysis of the documents, to help give context to these often rambling conversations.
In many letters, it's unclear who the sender or recipient is. In others, correspondents make reference to documents that either were not found or have not been released.
Wary Of Links To Somali Extremists
The documents come from the final five years of bin Laden's life, 2006-2011. Bin Laden and his family have been on the run for years. He and his lieutenants engage in lengthy colloquies about the activities of groups like Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen, a Somali group that was seeking a formal alliance with al-Qaida.
In a correspondence with Mukhtar Abu al-Zubayr, al-Shabaab's leader, bin Laden states his concerns over the negative fallout of such an alliance for the Somali population.
"The matter is that some Muslims in Somalia are suffering from immense poverty and malnutrition, because of the continuity of wars in their country," bin Laden writes. "Therefore, by not having the mujahidin [holy warriors] openly allied with al-Qaida, it would strengthen those merchants who are willing to help the brothers in Somalia, and would keep people with the mujahidin."
Bin Laden appears worried that an alliance will scare away foreign investors and dry up desperately needed foreign aid. Here as elsewhere, the master of attacks that killed thousands of Westerners is almost tender in his concern for Muslims in Somalia.
At the same time, Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's second in command, writes in favor of an alliance with al-Shabaab, in the hopes of spreading al-Qaida's influence. After bin Laden's death in May 2011, Zawahiri formalized the association between the two groups.
Upset With Attacks In Iraq
In the years after 9/11, bin Laden watched in dismay as afflilate groups such as "AQI," al-Qaida in Iraq, pursued strategies he found repugnant. AQI was the only franchise officially blessed by bin Laden.
But he and his lieutenants expressed deep concern as AQI fomented hatred among different Muslim groups in Iraq and mounted attacks on Muslims.
Adam Gadahn, the American-born media adviser for the group, writes in January 2011: "I was not at ease with al-Zaraqwi's [once the leader of AQI] moves, which he took in the name of al-Qaida."
Gadahn questions the bombing of a Catholic church in Bagdhad, asking: "Is this the justice that we are talking about, and that the Shiekh [bin Laden] talks about in his statements and messages?"
Gadahn goes so far as to suggest that the large number of Muslim casualties in Iraq might be a reason to cut ties with al-Qaida in Iraq.
At other times, the letters focus on fine points of procedure, such as whether certain tactics violate Muslim law.
One writer asks whether it is OK to take money from Palestinian groups, such as Fatah and Islamic Jihad. "Is it permitted to invest funds in the stock market, buying and selling shares, for the goal of supporting jihad, or investing some donation-derived funds in stock markets and shares?"
No Advance Knowledge Of Times Square Plot
In another correspondence, bin Laden reveals that he apparently had no knowledge of the 2010 attack on Times Square by Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani American who pleaded guilty to a failed car bombing. Shahzad received training from the Pakistani Taliban.
Bin Laden chastis1es Shahzad's handlers when he learns that Shahzad admitted in court that he lied on his citizenship application when he vowed not to harm the U.S. Bin Laden says this is not a circumstance when a person is permitted to lie.
Throughout the letters, bin Laden keeps his eye on his ultimate goal: another big attack against the United States.
He tries to turn other groups away from operations inside Muslim countries. In a May 2010 letter, he urges his chief of staff to marshal forces for an assault on a plane carrying either President Obama or Gen. David Petraeus, who was then the commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan and is now head of the CIA.
"The reason for concentrating on them is that Obama is the head of infidelity and killing him automatically will make [Joe] Biden take over the presidency for the remainder of the term," bin Laden says. "Biden is totally unprepared for that post, which will lead the U.S. into a crisis. As for Petraeus, he is the man of the hour in this last year of the war, and killing him would alter the war's path."
There are no indications that bin Laden's preparations for that plot ever got past this letter. Within a year, Obama would authorize the attack that would kill bin Laden.
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