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Bin Laden killed thousands of Muslims in his failed terror campaigns

Analysis by Martin Sieff
Residents offer Friday prayers on the roof of Jamia Masjid Mandian in Abbottabad on April 20, 2012. Osama bin Laden, who was killed May 2, 2011, changed his view on killing Muslims to bring power to al-Qaeda. [Reuters]

Residents offer Friday prayers on the roof of Jamia Masjid Mandian in Abbottabad on April 20, 2012. Osama bin Laden, who was killed May 2, 2011, changed his view on killing Muslims to bring power to al-Qaeda. [Reuters]

Osama bin Laden’s correspondence reveals a familiar but sinister profile: a fanatic eager to shed the blood of his countrymen and those he calls his religious allies.

Hitler, Stalin and Robespierre would have have recognized him as one of their own.

The 17 bin Laden emails and letters declassified by the U.S. government this week document the terrorist leader’s attempt to present himself as an ally of the very people he victimized. Bin Laden claims to be upset by the suffering inflicted on Muslims by attacks from his own al-Qaeda cells. He asked his lieutenants to attack targets that are not in Muslim countries – but only after his failed ambitious efforts to topple the government of Saudi Arabia through major terrorist attacks that started effectively with the Riyadh Compound Bombings of May 12, 2003.

Bin Laden’s hypocrisy

The same theme of hypocrisy emerges throughout bin Laden’s emails: he kills Muslims, but claims to love them.

Even when he expresses reluctance to carry out further terrorist attacks in Muslim countries, bin Laden only does so in 2006 - after years of al-Qaeda terrorist operations had killed thousands of Muslims in Iraq, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and other Islamic nations.

During the 4½ years covered by the 17 released communications, al-Qaeda terrorists and related groups killed far more Muslims than non-Muslims. Those attacks hurt his group’s reputation, as he and his colleagues acknowledged.

The 17 documents were internal al-Qaeda communications that bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders sent as e-mails or drafted in letters between September 2006 [five years after al-Qaeda’s hijacked airliners attacks killed 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001] and April 2011, shortly before he was killed in a raid on his villa in Abbottabad, Pakistan, by U.S. Navy SEALs.

Combating Terrorism Center posts documents

The documents have been posted on the website of the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. They total 175 pages in their original Arabic and 197 pages in their English translation. A translation of the documents was published by the CTC on May 3.

The documents show bin Laden had been forced to realize that his euphoric ambitions of toppling moderate and pro-Western governments throughout the Middle East had failed. They had backfired disastrously.

One letter, written to bin Laden by “a loving brother whom you know,” attacks the terrorist’s policies of concentrating terrorist attacks in “Islamic countries in general and the Arabian Peninsula in particular.”

Before the 2006 letter, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula had concentrated on trying to carry out terrorist attacks within Saudi Arabia to destabilize the country and topple its monarchy. But the Saudi security forces crushed al-Qaeda operations in their country and at least three operational heads of al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia were successfully hunted down and killed in succession.

Popular support for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia evaporated during those years. The same pattern occurred in Iraq, where al-Qaeda’s record of mayhem was at its worst in those years. And most of its victims were innocent Iraqi Muslims.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq [AQI] openly took direct responsibility for many of the worst outrages there, or was heavily involved in carrying them out. In August 2003 the group was involved in the killing of 17 people in the Embassy of Jordan in Baghdad and at least 86 people, all of them Muslims, in the Imam Ali Mosque bombing outrage on the Day of Ashura in Najaf. Among the dead was Ayatollah Sayed Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim.

Military forces eliminate al-Qaeda in Iraq

During the following years, U.S. and Iraq military and security forces virtually eliminated AQI as a significant threat in Iraq. The main reason for this, again, was that the group’s merciless willingness to slaughter civilians, especially Muslims, alienated popular opinion and support. But in those years, bin Laden was still ordering and supporting that policy.

By September 2006, these negative trends for al-Qaeda were obvious to many of bin Laden’s advisers. The writer of this letter to bin Laden analyzed the ways the terror campaign in Saudi Arabia had failed and he flat out told his leader that citizens of the country were now even reacting against the term “jihad” because of its associations with al-Qaeda’s distorted application of it. The letter writer urged bin Laden to change his overall strategy because his campaigns within the Arab world had failed so badly.

Failure, frustration apparent

The documents also are a study in failure and frustration. Far from being a confident terrorist global mastermind, exulting in his power and reputation, bin Laden recognizes that his forces have failed to gain significant political traction anywhere. In particular, he recognizes that his attempt to topple the Royal government of Saudi Arabia, his main strategic objective from at least 2003 on, had failed totally.

Bin Laden retreats into a fantasy world in the documents between 2006 and 2011 – the last written only days before he was killed. He particularly obsesses on the merits of changing his organization’s name. Bin Laden also acknowledges that his abuse had backfired and led to a widespread popular revulsion against the distorted uses and interpretations that al-Qaeda and their allies have subjected it to.

Bin Laden regretted the growing opposition to his attacks against Muslims.

“Muslims did not understand the justification behind allowing their killing,” he wrote. “What also led to the loss of [support for] the Mujahidin [holy warriors] was exploitation of the foes [enemies of al-Qaeda] to several of their mistakes and tainting their picture before the crowds of the nation; the purpose was to split them from their popular bases, and needless to say that this issue involving the loss of the nation's audience paralyzed the Jihadist movements.”

Advisers told bin Laden movement was losing popularity

Another letter-writer, unidentified according to the U.S. analysts told the al-Qaeda leader that his movement was clearly declining in popularity and credibility throughout the Muslim world. And he identified bin Laden’s previously favored practice of carrying out attacks within Arab Muslim countries as being the main reason this was happening.

He plainly told bin Laden to stop his previous policy of approving attacks throughout the Arabian Peninsula. And even then, he still approved of carrying out attacks against U.S. targets in such Muslim nations as Afghanistan and Iraq.

“We think that the best places and most effective places for attacking the head of the snake are the locations in which it explicitly got involved militarily, such as Afghanistan and Iraq,” this correspondent wrote. “Concentrating efforts in those areas is better than dispersing them and prevents the harm that could accompany them.” This “harm” clearly refers to the popular outrage of ordinary Muslim people after they had seen dozens or scores of people massacred in terrorist attacks.

The documents also clearly show that in the last five years of his life, bin Laden had even lost effective control of al-Qaeda terror franchises. He was clearly seen by his regional operational commanders as an aging has-been, whose commands and recommendations could be safely ignored.

“Bin Laden’s frustration with regional jihadi groups and his seeming inability to exercise control over their actions and public statements is the most compelling story to be told on the basis of the 17 declassified documents. ‘Letters from Abbottabad’ is an initial exploration and contextualization of 17 documents that will be the grist for future academic debate and discussion,” the CTC analysts wrote.

In the end, the concerns bin Laden expressed during his later years about his terrorists killing other Muslims, was obviously hypocritical since he was still willing to kill anyone. But he only began to even express these concerns privately after his vigorous proactive policy of being ready to kill thousands and tens of thousands of innocent Muslims in such countries as Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Yemen had already failed and backfired on him.


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