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Bin Laden's Letters Reveal Al Qaeda Rifts
The United States has released letters written by Osama bin Laden in his final hideout showing how he fretted about his increasingly dysfunctional terror network.
A year after Bin Laden was killed by US Navy Seals at his compound, the White House has released 17 documents from a massive trove of files recovered at his home in Abbottabad.
The documents, posted online by the US Army's Combating Terrorism Centre, were retrieved from memory sticks, memory cards and the hard drive of the al Qaeda chief's computer.
The correspondence - dated from September 2006 to April 2011 - shows dark days for a leader revered but sometimes ignored by field commanders, who dismissed him as out of touch even as he urged them to keep attacking US targets.
Concern over the organisation's reputation in Islamic countries ran so deep that his followers even weighed up changing al Qaeda's name to make a fresh start, according to one document.
The letters reveal Bin Laden worried about the loss of trust from Muslims he wished to incite against their governments and the West.
In a May 2010 letter, Bin Laden also underscores "the need to cancel other attacks due to the possible and unnecessary civilian casualties" in Muslim countries.
"We ask every emir in the regions to be extremely keen and focused on controlling the military work," he wrote, referring to al Qaeda attacks.
He described operations killing Muslims as "mistakes", adding it was important that "no Muslims fall victim except when it is absolutely essential".
"It would lead us to winning several battles while losing the war at the end," he wrote.
While Bin Laden saw al Qaeda's standing with Muslim populations at risk of crumbling, the documents show he remained focused on attacking Americans and coming up with plots, however improbable, to kill US leaders.
Bin Laden especially wished to target aeroplanes carrying General David Petraeus and even US President Barack Obama.
The al Qaeda chief reasoned that Mr Obama's assassination would elevate an "utterly unprepared" vice president Joe Biden to the presidency and plunge the US into crisis.
"Biden is totally unprepared for that post, which will lead the US into a crisis," he wrote.
"As for Petraeus, he is the man of the hour in this last year of the war, and killing him would alter the war's path."
At the time the letter was written, Petraeus was chief of US Central Command, overseeing troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He took over as commander in the Afghanistan war in June 2010.
In another letter whose author is unclear, there is a discussion about the possibility of changing al Qaeda's name to reconnect with Muslims around the world.
The group's current "name reduces the feeling of Muslims that we belong to them, and allows the enemies to claim deceptively that they are not at war with Islam and Muslims, but they are at war with the organisation of al Qaeda," according to the letter.
The author proposes a list of possible new names, including the "Muslim Unity Group" and "Islamic Nation Unification Party".
The documents reveal internal correspondence within the al Qaeda network, including letters authored by Bin Laden and leaders of the group's affiliate in Yemen and fellow militants in Somalia and Pakistan.
A US analysts' report released along with Bin Laden's correspondence described him as upset over the inability of spin-off terrorist groups to win public support for their cause.
He was also frustrated at such groups' unsuccessful media campaigns and poorly planned plots that, in Bin Laden's view, killed too many innocent Muslims.
An adviser to Bin Laden, Adam Gadahn, urged him to disassociate their organisation from the acts of al Qaeda's offshoot in Iraq, known as AQI, and Bin Laden told other terrorist groups not to repeat AQI's mistakes.
Bin Laden also seemed uninterested in recognising Somali-based al Shabab when the group pledged loyalty to him.
He thought its leaders were poor governors of the areas they controlled and were too strict with their administration of Islamic penalties, like cutting off the hands of thieves.
The report accompanying the letters said Bin Laden was proud of the security measures that kept his family safe for many years.
It said Bin Laden boasted that his family "adhered to such strict measures, precluding his children from playing outdoors without the supervision of an adult who could keep their voices down".
Bin Laden also wrote that "controlling children" was one of the keys to hiding in cities, as he did for years while US forces searched Pakistan's rugged frontier.
He encouraged his followers in hiding to teach their children the local language and not let them out of their homes "except for extreme necessity like medical care".
The correspondence also suggests that al Qaeda carefully monitored US cable news networks and generally did not like what it saw.
Bin Laden's inner circle also was frustrated when, in 2010, attention in the US shifted to the weak economy without apparently crediting al Qaeda for the economic damage that terrorist attacks had caused.
"All the political talk in America is about the economy, forgetting or ignoring the war and its role in weakening the economy," Bin Laden spokesman Gadahn wrote.
Al Qaeda's relationship with Iran, a point of deep interest to the US government, was rough, judging from the documents.
After the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001, some top al Qaeda operatives and their families fled to Iran, where authorities there put them under house arrest.
Over the years, Iran has released some, including members of Bin Laden's family. Still, others remain.
Atiyah Abd al Rahman, who became al Qaeda's number two after Bin Laden's death, complained bitterly about dealing with the Iranians and their Byzantine methods of negotiating.
Al Rahman was later killed in a US drone strike.
"The criminals did not send us any letter, nor did they send us a message through any of the brothers," al Rahman wrote.
"Such behaviour is of course not unusual for them; indeed, it is typical of their mindset and method.
"They do not wish to appear to be negotiating with us or responding to our pressures."
The papers include letters or draft letters - a total of 175 pages in the original Arabic.
It is not clear if any of the documents reached their intended destinations or how many of Bin Laden's documents America was still keeping secret.
The release of the documents was part of a nearly week-long commemoration of the anniversary of the Bin Laden killing.