This week, prosecutors in New York introduced eight documents recovered in Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan as evidence in the trial of a terrorism suspect. The U.S. government accuses Abid Naseer of taking part in al Qaeda’s scheme to attack targets in Europe and New York City. And prosecutors say the documents are essential for understanding the scope of al Qaeda’s plotting.
More than 1 million documents and files were captured by the Navy Seals who raided bin Laden’s safe house in Abbottabad, Pakistan in May 2011. One year later, in May 2012, the Obama administration released just 17 of them.
While there is some overlap between the files introduced as evidence in Brooklyn and those that were previously made public in 2012, much of what is in the trial exhibits had never been made public before.
The files do not support the view, promoted by some in the Obama administration, that bin Laden was in “comfortable retirement,” “sidelined,” or “a lion in winter” in the months leading up to his death. On the contrary, bin Laden is asked to give his order on a host of issues, ranging from the handling of money to the movement of terrorist operatives.
Some of the key revelations in the newly-released bin Laden files relate to al Qaeda’s dealings with Iran and presence in Afghanistan.
A top al Qaeda operative asked bin Laden for permission to relocate to Iran in June 2010 as he plotted attacks around the world. That operative, Yunis al Mauritani, was a senior member of al Qaeda’s so-called “external operations” team, and plotted to launch Mumbai-style attacks in Europe.
As THE WEEKLY STANDARD first reported, the al Qaeda cell selected to take part in al Mauritani’s plot transited through Iran and some of its members received safe haven there after the planned attacks were thwarted.
In the memo to bin Laden, a top al Qaeda manager wrote, “Sheikh Yunis is ready to move and travel.” The file continues: “The destination, in principle, is Iran, and he has with him 6 to 8 brothers that he chose. I told him we are waiting for final complete confirmation from you to move, and agree on this destination (Iran). His plan is: stay around three months in Iran to train the brothers there then start moving them and distributing them in the world for their missions and specialties. He explained those to you in his report and plan.”
Bin Laden’s reply is apparently not included in the documents.
Other intelligence recovered in the raid on the al Qaeda master’s home show that al Qaeda and Iran were at odds in some ways. Iran detained a number of senior al Qaeda leaders and members of Osama bin Laden’s family. Al Qaeda forced Iran to release some of them by kidnapping an Iranian diplomat in Pakistan. Some of the newly-released files provide hints of these disagreements as well, including a suggestion that one of bin Laden’s sons may complain about the jihadists’ treatment in Iran once he was freed.
The same June 2010 memo to bin Laden that includes Yunis al Mauritani’s request also includes a section on the al Qaeda leaders who had returned to Pakistan from Iran. One of them is Abu Anas al Libi, a bin Laden lieutenant who was captured in Tripoli in 2013. Upon being freed, al Libi was reassigned to al Qaeda’s security committee and asked to move to Libya to take part in the anti-Qaddafi revolution. Al Qaeda granted al Libi’s request.
Although Iran and al Qaeda have had significant differences, there is much intelligence showing that the two continue to collude.
During President Obama’s administration, the Treasury and State Departments have repeatedly exposed the formerly “secret deal” between the Iranian regime and al Qaeda that allows the terrorist organization to shuttle operatives around the globe. Some of those operatives included Yunis al Mauritani’s men.
The June 2010 memo to bin Laden indicates that al Qaeda had a significant presence in Afghanistan at the time.
“Our groups inside Afghanistan are the same as for every season for many years now,” bin Laden’s subordinate wrote. “We have groups in Bactria, Bactica, Khost, Zabul, Ghazni and Warduk in addition to the battalion in Nuristan and Kunz.” (Bactria and Bactica may be transliterated incorrectly and actually reference other provinces.)