Bin Laden no ‘puppet master’

Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was not the “puppet master” of jihadi groups around the world and complained of what he called their “incompetence”, according to an analysis of documents seized from his hideout in Pakistan.

The Combating Terrorism Centre, a privately funded research centre at the US Military Academy at West Point, posted on its website on Thursday 17 declassified documents taken in the raid on bin Laden’s house in Abbottabad in which he was killed by US forces a year ago.

“On the basis of the 17 declassified documents, bin Ladin was not, as many thought, the puppet master pulling the strings that set in motion jihadi groups around the world,” a report on the documents by the Combating Terrorism Centre said. “Bin Ladin was burdened by what he saw as their incompetence.”

The centre spells bin Laden’s name as Bin Ladin.

The report said the al-Qaeda leader, who was behind the September 11 2001 World Trade Centre attacks in New York, “was unimpressed by the recent trend of American populist jihad.”

Al-Qaeda attacks
He appeared to have little regard for Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen accused of instigating a number of violent al-Qaeda attacks from Yemen and who was killed in a US drone strike last year.

Awlaki is mentioned in one letter, assessed to be from bin Laden who writes, as translated: “I hope that he be informed of us still needing more information from the battlefield in Yemen, so that it is feasible for us, with the help of God, to make the most appropriate decision to either escalate or calm down.”

The 17 documents are electronic letters or draft letters totalling 175 pages in the original Arabic, dating from September 2006 to April 2011, and they do not all state who wrote or received them.

US intelligence officials have said al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which operates from Yemen, has emerged as the most dangerous affiliate.

But according to the West Point study, bin Laden himself regarded many of al Qaeda’s affiliated groups, including the ones feared by the West, with disdain.

Attacking the US
The letters show that bin Laden worried about AQAP, the Yemeni affiliate, and urged its leadership to focus efforts on attacking the US rather than the Yemeni government or security forces, the report said.

It said the confiscated material showed that the actions of another affiliate, Al Qaeda in Iraq was of particular concern to bin Laden, especially its killing of Shi’ite civilians following the US invasion of Iraq.

One of al-Qaeda’s main English-language spokespeople, American-born Adam Gadahn, even suggested that the main al Qaeda group should disassociate itself from al-Qaeda in Iraq. At one point Gadahn compared the activities of the Iraqi group to the policies of former US President George W Bush, who had launched the 2003 Iraq invasion.

Bin Laden also apparently wanted to keep al-Qaeda’s Somalia-based affiliate, Al Shabaab, at arm’s length, the study says, because he was concerned about its poor organisation, management and brutality.

The report said that bin Laden’s relationship with the TTP, one of the main Pakistan-based Taliban groups, was so strained that the group almost came into “direct and public confrontation” with al-Qaeda’s central leadership over its indiscriminate attacks on Muslim civilians.

Sporadic broadcasts
Videotapes and audiotapes from bin Laden were broadcast sporadically during the decade that he was in hiding. In a letter dated August 27 2010, the al-Qaeda leader gave detailed instructions about how to get the message out and shows he wanted it timed for the upcoming September 11 anniversary.

“Attached with this message is a visual statement to the American people that I hope a copy of it be given to the International Al Jazeera and the Arab Al Jazeera. I also hope for it to be translated (voice over) to English and to be delivered to the Al Jazeera channel prior to the anniversary of 9/11, to be broadcasted during it. Also, two copies of it are attached, one of which is recorded and the other written.”

“We sent you, along with the messages that preceded this, a statement regarding the floods of Pakistan. Its broadcasting to media was delayed, thus perhaps it’s for a good reason. However, in any case, I had attached the content of this card to this message.”

“Note: Please broadcast the flood statement before the American People statement, as the American People statement to be during the anniversary of 9/11.” — Reuters

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories


Subscribers only

The South African connection: How mercenaries aided Trump ally in...

The UN found that Trump ally Erik Prince violated the Libyan arms embargo. Here are the South Africans the report says helped him to do so

Q&A Sessions: African court ‘will be a tough job’ — Dumisa...

Lawyer, author and political activist Dumisa Ntsebeza talks to Nicolene de Wee about his appointment as judge of the African Court on Human and...

More top stories

In a bizarre twist VBS liquidators sue KPMG for R863mn

In filed court documents, the VBS liquidators are blaming auditing firm KPMG’s negligence for the alleged looting of the bank

Snip, snip: Mboweni eyes wage bill, other future spending cuts

Last year, the finance minister noted that increased government spending has failed to promote growth over the past decade

Budget: Mboweni pegs recovery hopes on vaccine efficacy, lower public...

The treasury forecasts 3.3% growth, but warns this will fall to 1.6% if the fledgeling vaccination programme fails to stem successive Covid waves

READ IT IN FULL: Mboweni’s 2021 budget speech

Read the finance minister's address on the budget for 2021

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…