US & Canada

Analysis: Bin Laden papers details

The selection of 17 documents represents just a tiny fragment of the 6,000 said to have been recovered from Osama Bin Laden's compound in Pakistan after his killing.

It is impossible to know how representative these really are of what was found in totality, but they do provide us with a series of unique snapshots of the concerns of top al-Qaeda officials.

They reveal interesting details of thinking on media strategy, on relations with affiliates, on targets for the organisation, its security concerns as well as its views on unfolding world events like the Arab Spring.


One memo - said to have been written by American al-Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn - outlines a detailed analysis of the benefits of Bin Laden making a media appearance.

Image caption Adam Gadahn, US-born spokesman for Al Qaeda

The positives and negatives are discussed as well as which news networks in the US might be best (they are described as all on the same level professionally apart from FOX News which "falls into the abyss").

The quality of the video is also discussed with reference to poor photo quality in past appearances having fuelled the "conspiracy theory" that Bin Laden was dead. There is a warning not to rely on al-Jazeera and jihadi forums.


The troubled relationship between al-Qaeda's leadership in Pakistan and its affiliates in other countries is one theme of the documents . These groups allied themselves to Bin Laden's organisation but often acted in ways that the core organisation was unhappy with. There are references to the way in which al-Qaeda in Iraq - which declared itself the Islamic State in Iraq - failed by targeting Muslims.

Adam Gadhan at one point says Bin Laden should distance himself from the Islamic State in Iraq.

There are other warnings to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula against declaring its own Islamic State in Yemen, and concerns over the Pakistan Taliban targeting Muslims.


One document said to be authored by Bin Laden himself in May 2010 looks at strategy for the group.

Image caption US vice president Joe Biden was not to be targeted

Within the document is a proposal relating to which US officials to target when they visited Pakistan or Afghanistan.

President Obama or the then head of US forces, General Petraeus, were to be targeted, but not US vice-president Joe Biden. The document argued Mr Biden would be unprepared for the post if the president was killed, leading the US into crisis. Gen Petraeus' death would also alter the course of the war, it was argued.


The focus on targeting the US is clear from some of the letters. There are concerns over the death of Muslims at the hands of al-Qaeda affiliates and one document written - perhaps by Bin Laden - to the leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen suggests focusing on America rather than local forces.


The problems that al-Qaeda faced in terms of security for its operatives in the Afghanistan/Pakistan border region are revealed in one letter believed to be from Bin Laden in late 2010. The toll of drone strikes and extensive surveillance seems to result in a warning to keep a low profile and avoid travelling in cars and visiting certain areas.

Arab Spring

Some of the documents show al-Qaeda trying to react to the Arab Spring. The events in Egypt and elsewhere seemed to show the organisation' irrelevance as it played no role in huge social changes.

One document is apparently a draft of a statement later released in March 2011 by Bin Laden's then number two and now successor Ayman al-Zawahiri commenting on the Arab Spring. The drafts show comments from someone - perhaps Bin Laden - over what should be said, but most were ignored.

You can download the original documents here.

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