The wealth of information pulled from Osama bin Laden's compound has reinforced the strong role he played in planning and directing attacks by al-Qaida and its affiliates in Yemen and Somalia, senior U.S. officials said Friday.
A senior U.S. defense official said Friday that documents found during the raid that killed bin Laden further demonstrate that top al-Qaida commanders and other key insurgents are scattered throughout Pakistan, not just in rugged border areas, and are being supported and given sanctuary by Pakistanis.
Information gathered in the compound, officials said, strengthened beliefs that bin Laden was a lot more involved in directing al-Qaida personnel and operations than sometimes thought over the past decade. It also suggests he was "giving strategic direction" to al-Qaida affiliates in Somalia and Yemen, the defense official said.
U.S. counterterrorism officials have long debated how big a role bin Laden and core al-Qaida leaders were playing in the attacks launched by affiliated terrorist groups, particularly al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which is based in Yemen, and al-Shabab in Somalia.
Bin Laden's first priority, an official said, was his own security. But the data show he was far more active in providing guidance and telling affiliated groups in Yemen and Somalia what they should or should not be doing.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive material.
Pakistan's military paints a different picture than the U.S. of bin Laden's final days: an aging terrorist hiding in barren rooms, short of money and struggling to maintain his grip on al-Qaida.
Three of bin Laden's wives were living with him in the compound and are being interrogated by Pakistani authorities, who took them into custody after Monday's raid, along with 13 children, eight of them bin Laden's.
One wife, identified as Yemeni-born Amal Ahmed Abdullfattah, told interrogators she had been staying in the hideout since 2006 and never left the upper floors, said a Pakistani intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity. The official did not indicate whether bin Laden was with her the whole time, a period in which the Pakistani military says the al-Qaida chief's influence and financial status eroded.
Money disputes between bin Laden and his No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri, led the group to split into two factions five or six years ago, with the larger faction controlled by al-Zawahri, according to two senior Pakistani military officials. Bin Laden was "cash strapped" in his final days, they said.
The officers spoke to a small group of Pakistani reporters late Thursday, and their comments were confirmed by another top military official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issues. The officer didn't provide details or say how his agency knew about bin Laden's financial situation or the split with his deputy.