A day after the first anniversary of the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden, the U.S. launched a rare public relations exercise against the late leader of al-Qaeda by releasing a partial but revealing tranche of the documents seized during the raid at the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
The first group of 17 ‘Letters from Abbottabad' were opened up to the public by the U.S. Combating Terrorism Centre (CTC) at West Point military academy, and they suggested that the al-Qaeda was no different to ordinary corporate or social organisations in its proclivity to get caught up in the politics of internal squabbles and acrimony, mostly against other terror groups such as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
The letters have been vetted and translated by counterterrorism experts at the CTC and are in electronic form totalling 175 pages in the original Arabic and 197 pages in the English translation. In this first tranche, the earliest letter is dated September 2006 and the latest April 2011, with the internal al-Qaeda communications authored by several leaders, including bin Laden, Atiyya Abd al-Rahman, Abu Yahya al-Libi and the American terror suspect Adam Gadahn.
On the one hand, the sheer range of discussants engaged in communications with al-Qaeda points to the depth of interconnections between a number of high-profile terror groups. Examples include Mukhtar Abu al-Zubayr, leader of the Somali militant group Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahidin; Nasir al-Wuhayshi, leader of the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP); and Anwar al-`Awlaqi; and Hakimullah Mahsud, leader of the TTP.
Yet equally the letters show cracks and ideological and tactical rifts opening up between these the leaders of these organisations. For example in one letter (SOCOM-2012-0000004) written by Gadhan in January 2011, he sharply criticises the tactics and targeting calculus of the Islamic State of Iraq and the TTP, while strongly advocating that al-Qaeda publicly dissociate itself from both groups.
In another letter (SOCOM-2012-0000005), bin Laden himself politely refuses a request from al-Shabaab's leader al-Zubayr for formal unity with al-Qaeda. Ironically after bin Ladin's death, the Somali militant group merged with al- Qaeda.
Most revealingly, one letter from al-Qaeda's al-Hasan and al-Libi the amir of the TTP, Hakimullah Mahsud, hints at deep-seated ideological and strategic differences. Dated December 3 2010, the letter (SOCOM-2012-0000007) lays bare the serious concerns that the al-Qaeda bosses had about the TTP's tactics within Pakistan, with an eye on the consequences that the TTP's “misguided operations” might have on al-Qaeda and other terror groups in the region.
Specifically the CTC experts reviewing the letters noted that the al-Qaeda authors identified several errors committed by the TTP, including Hakimullah Mahsud's arrogation of privileges and positions beyond what was appropriate as the TTP's amir; the TTP's use of indiscriminate violence and killing of Muslim civilians, and the group's use of kidnapping.
Such disenchantment among some of terror bosses about al-Qaeda's willingness to carry out attacks that could affect Muslims appears to be a theme within the Abbottabad letters. Another letter (SOCOM-2012-0000018) released by the CTC on Thursday, sent to bin Laden from “a loving brother whom you know and who knows you” is critical of bin Laden for allowing attacks on “Islamic countries in general and the Arabian Peninsula in particular.”
The author of this missive enumerated numerous deleterious consequences of engaging in jihad inside Saudi Arabia, and informed Zamarai, a nickname for bin Laden, that people were “repulsed by the technical term ‘jihad' and even forbidden to use it in lectures,” and the author strongly advised bin Laden to change his policies.
Keywords: Bin Laden letters