In letters from his last hideout, Osama bin Laden fretted about dysfunction in his terrorist network and crumbling trust from Muslims he wished to incite against their government and the West.
A selection of documents seized in last year's raid on bin Laden's Pakistan house was posted online on Thursday by the US Army's Combating Terrorism Centre. The documents show dark days for al-Qaeda and its hunkered-down leader after years of attacks by the United States and what bin Laden saw as bumbling within his own organisation and its terrorist allies.
Bin Laden's last words go online
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Bin Laden's last words go online
In letters from his last hideout, Osama bin Laden fretted about dysfunction in his terrorist network.
"I plan to release a statement that we are starting a new phase to correct (the mistakes) we made," bin Laden wrote in 2010. "In doing so, we shall reclaim, God willing, the trust of a large segment of those who lost their trust in the jihadis."
Until the end, bin Laden remained focused on attacking Americans and coming up with plots, however improbable, to kill US leaders. He wished especially to target airplanes carrying Gen. David Petraeus and even President Barack Obama, reasoning that an assassination would elevate an "utterly unprepared" Vice President Joe Biden into the presidency and plunge the US into crisis.
But a US analysts' report released along with bin Laden's correspondence describes him as upset over the inability of spinoff terrorist groups to win public support for their cause, their unsuccessful media campaigns and poorly planned plots that, in bin Laden's view, killed too many innocent Muslims.
Bin Laden's inner circle also was frustrated when, in 2010, attention in the US shifted to the weak economy without apparently crediting al-Qaeda for the economic damage that terrorist attacks had caused. "All the political talk in America is about the economy, forgetting or ignoring the war and its role in weakening the economy," his spokesman, Adam Gadahn, wrote.
Bin Laden wrote that "controlling children" was one of the keys to hiding in cities, as he did for years while US forces searched Pakistan's rugged frontier. He encouraged his followers in hiding to teach their children the local language and not let them out of their homes "except for extreme necessity like medical care."
The correspondence suggests that al-Qaeda carefully monitored US. cable news networks and generally didn't like what it saw. "We can say that there is no single channel that we could rely on for our messages," Gadahn wrote, although he described ABC as "all right, actually it could be one of the best channels as far as we are concerned." He complained that Fox News "falls into the abyss, as you know, and lacks neutrality." CNN, he said, "seems to be in co-operation with the government more than the others except Fox News, of course."
Gadahn suggested sending videos of bin Laden's remarks to all the US news networks - except Fox News. "Let her die in anger," he wrote.
The correspondence includes letters by then-second-in-command Abu Yahya al-Libi, taking Pakistani offshoot Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan to task over its indiscriminate attacks on Muslims. The al-Qaeda leadership "threatened to take public measures unless we see from you serious and immediate practical and clear steps towards reforming (your ways) and dissociating yourself from these vile mistakes that violate Islamic Law," al-Libi wrote.
Apparently bin Laden was not made of aware of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan's planned bombing of Times Square in New York in May 2010. But he expressed disappointment that Faisal Shahzad did not manage to pull off the attack after the bomb failed to detonate. Shahzad was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the attempted attack.
Bin Laden also warned the leader of Yemeni AQAP, Nasir al-Wuhayshi, against attempting a takeover of Yemen to establish an Islamic state, instead saying he should "refocus his efforts on attacking the United States."
And he seemed uninterested in recognising Somali-based al-Shabab when the group pledged loyalty to him because he thought its leaders were poor governors of the areas they controlled and were too strict with their administration of Islamic penalties, like cutting off the hands of thieves.
Nothing in the papers that were released points directly to al-Qaida sympathisers in Pakistan's government, although presumably such references would have remained classified. Bin Laden described "trusted Pakistani brothers" but didn't identify any Pakistani government or military officials who might have been aware of or complicit in his hiding in Abbottabad.