The Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) at West Point today released 17 declassified documents, totaling 197 pages in English translations, which were among the reportedly thousands of items seized from Osama bin Laden’s compound after U.S. Special Forces killed the terrorist leader last year.
The oldest of the released documents dates from September 2006, and the most recent was written by bin Laden and dated April 26, 2011, just days before the U.S. raid. Some of the correspondence was written by bin Laden himself — but not all. Some were written by Al Qaeda figures Atiyya `Abd al-Rahman, Abu Yahya al-Libi and the American Adam Gadahn. Some of the documents are incomplete and do not identify an author. It is also unclear if the letters not addressed to bin Laden ever reached their intended audience.
“Other recognizable personalities who feature in the letters either as authors, recipients or points of conversation include Mukhtar Abu al-Zubayr, leader of the Somali militant group Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahidin; Nasir al-Wuhayshi (Abu Basir), leader of the Yemen-based al-Qa`ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP); Anwar al-`Awlaqi; and Hakimullah Mahsud, leader of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP),” the CTC’s guide to the documents states.
One of the letters with no clear author or date contains a discussion of changing Al Qaeda’s very name.
“This name reduces the feeling of Muslims that we belong to them, and allows the enemies to claim deceptively that they are not at war with Islam and Muslims, but they are at war with the organization of al-Qa‟ida,” the document states.
Alternative names proposed in the letter include Taifat al-tawhid wal-jihad (Monotheism and Jihad Group), Jama‟at wihda al-Muslimin (Muslim Unity Group), and Jama‟at i‟adat al-khilafat al-rashida (Restoration of the Caliphate Group).
In a long letter written in May 2010, bin Laden wrote that he had given instructions to “prepare two groups - one in Pakistan and the other in the Bagram area of Afghanistan - with the mission of anticipating and spotting the visits of Obama or Petraeus to Afghanistan or Pakistan to target the aircraft of either one of them.”
“They are not to target visits by US Vice President Biden, Secretary of Defense Gates, Joint Chiefs of Staff (Chairman) Mullen, or the Special Envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan Holbrook,” bin Laden continued. “The groups will remain on the lookout for Obama or Petraeus. The reason for concentrating on them is that Obama is the head of infidelity and killing him automatically will make Biden take over the presidency for the remainder of the term, as it is the norm over there. Biden is totally unprepared for that post, which will lead the US into a crisis.”
A document from January 2011, written by American Al Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn, discusses media plans for the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and offers some twisted yet perhaps familiar-sounding media criticism.
“From the professional point of view, they are all on one level-except (Fox News) channel which falls into the abyss as you know, and lacks neutrality too,” Gadahn wrote. “I used to think that MSNBC channel may be good and neutral a bit, but is has lately fired two of the most famous journalists-Keith Olberman and Octavia Nasser the Lebanese - because they released some statements that were open for argument.”
In a report that the CTC released along with the documents, the center offered some advice on reading the documents.
“[T]wo cautions are worth highlighting. First and most importantly is
that these documents likely represent only a fraction of the materials reportedly taken
from the compound,” the report said. “Second… analysis based on captured documents alone is fraught with risk. While they may offer unique insights, these are most valuable when contextualized with information drawn from other sources.”
Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com