Isolated and losing control: letters reveal Bin Laden's state of mind
US authorities release selection of files found during raid that killed the al-Qa'ida leader
Known for his commentary on international relations and US politics, Rupert Cornwell also contributes obituaries and occasionally even a column for the sports pages. With The Independent since its launch in 1986, he was the paper's first Moscow correspondent - covering the collapse of the Soviet Union – during which time he won two British Press Awards. Previously a foreign correspondent for the Financial Times and Reuters, he has also been a diplomatic correspondent, leader writer and columnist, and has served as Washington bureau editor. In 1983 he published God's Banker, about Roberto Calvi, the Italian banker found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge.
Friday 04 May 2012
He wants to change his business strategy, but he's worried that his instructions are being deliberately ignored by bungling subordinates. It could be the fretting CEO of any struggling company. But in this case it's Osama bin Laden, whose business was al-Qa'ida.
Yesterday, the US authorities released a first sample of the documents captured during the raid on 2 May 2011 in which Bin Laden was killed. They depict a leader increasingly isolated and losing control, obsessed with security, and fearful that al-Qa'ida's violent ways are alienating ordinary Muslims.
He was so concerned that he considered rebranding al-Qa'ida, apologising for some of its attacks and renaming the group. He was especially keen on choosing a name with religious connotations so that every time it was condemned by a Western politician it would sound like a condemnation of Islam. Suggested names included Muslim Unity Group, Support of Islam and al-Aqsa Group, Restoration of the Caliphate Group, and Islamic Nation Unification Party.
The declassified material, mostly letters from Bin Laden to associates and commanders in the field, comprises only 17 of the 6,000-plus documents discovered in the compound at Abbottabad, Pakistan. But according to the US Army's Combating Terrorism Centre, they show the al-Qa'ida leader was "not the puppet-master pulling the strings". Rather, it says, Bin Laden "was burdened by what he saw as their incompetence".
The letters are from between September 2006 and April 2011, the last of them dated just a week before he died. The al-Qa'ida that emerges is, in many respects, a corporation like any other, riven by turf fights and personal jealousies – not least of them between Bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki, the internet propagandist who was killed by a US drone in Yemen last September.
His biggest concern was the support he was losing because of the deaths of thousands of Muslim civilians. In a long letter from May 2010, he writes how immediately after 9/11 his fighters were "standard bearers of the Islamic community in fighting the Crusader-Zionist alliance." But then, "some of the brothers became totally absorbed in fighting our local enemies." It was time, Bin Laden urged, for a "new phase" in which the focus was on Islam's real foe, the Americans.
The letters reveal his attention to detail, from which US media outlets might be most promising for al-Qa'ida to the merits of a book by The Independent's own Robert Fisk.
- 1 What marriage would look like if we actually followed the Bible
- 3 The Chinese city where men have 'three girlfriends because there are so many women'
- 4 'Heartbreaking' Syria orphan photo wasn't taken in Syria and not of orphan
- 5 Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Britain to take more refugees as Cameron bows to pressure after more than 250,000 back our campaign
Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches – it's time to act
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
If you're not already angry about the refugee crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
Make your voice heard: Sign The Independent's petition to welcome refugees
£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...
£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...
£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...
£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...