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Al-Qaeda chief 'worried about public image'

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Joby Warrick, Washington

Osama bin Laden was struggling to reassert control over the organisation he created.

Osama bin Laden was struggling to reassert control over the organisation he created. Photo: Reuters

A FEW months before Osama bin Laden's death, websites linked to al-Qaeda ran excited commentary about a proposed new killing machine dubbed the ''human lawnmower''. The idea was to attach rotating blades to the front of a pickup truck and drive the contraption into crowds.

While some jihadists admired the idea, one veteran terrorist took a stand against it - bin Laden himself. ''He was upset about it,'' said a former US intelligence official who viewed bin Laden's writings, seized in the raid that killed him a year ago. ''He felt it conflicted with his vision for what he wanted al-Qaeda to be.''

New excerpts from those documents show bin Laden struggling to reassert control over the organisation he created and increasingly drawn to the ideas of Libyan-born Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, a veteran of Algeria's brutal civil war in the 1990s, who advocated reining in al-Qaeda-inspired carnage in Iraq and the wider Middle East.

''To the end, Atiyah kept trying to rein in attacks inside the Middle East,'' said Jarret Brachman, an author and consultant on al-Qaeda to US government agencies. ''Both he and bin Laden remained rabid in their hatred for the West. But they felt that attacks within Muslim countries were bad for their public image.''

Abd al-Rahman was reported killed a few months after bin Laden, in a US drone strike in Pakistan last August.

When Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad tried to detonate a car bomb in New York's Times Square in May 2010, his attempt drew a rebuke from bin Laden because he had sworn a loyalty oath to the United States as a naturalised citizen. ''You know it is not permissible to tell such a lie to the enemy,'' bin Laden wrote, according to a copy of his missive obtained by Seth Jones, a senior political scientist at Rand Corp.

■ The remains of bin Laden's last home are being sold as souvenirs by the contractor who bulldozed the three-storey building in February. Shakeel Ahmed said his salvage yard had become a tourist attraction for visitors: ''Some come here looking for just one [brick], so they can have them as a gift.''

The rubble was put up for auction but with other builders too frightened to bid, Mr Ahmed said, he scooped the lot for 500,000 rupees or about $A5200.

WASHINGTON POST, TELEGRAPH

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