Top terrorist urged higher death counts

Al-Qaida leader's writings reveal his work on plots

  • Follow Osama bin Laden

WASHINGTON --- Deep in hiding, his terrorist organization becoming battered and fragmented, Osama bin Laden kept pressing followers to find new ways to hit the U.S., officials say, citing his journal and other documents recovered in last week's raid.

Back | Next
A Pakistani soldier and a police officer stood guard Wednesday in a street near the fortresslike compound in which al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was slain in Abbottabad, Pakistan.  Associated Press
Associated Press
A Pakistani soldier and a police officer stood guard Wednesday in a street near the fortresslike compound in which al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was slain in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Strike smaller cities, bin Laden suggested. Target trains along with planes. Above all, kill as many Americans as possible in a single attack.

Though he was out of the public eye and al-Qaida seemed to be weakening, bin Laden never yielded control of his worldwide organization, U.S. officials said Wednesday. His handwritten journal and his massive collection of computer files reveal his hand at work in every recent major al-Qaida threat, including plots in Europe last year that had travelers and embassies on high alert, two officials said.

They described the intelligence to The Associated Press only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk publicly about what was found in bin Laden's hideout. Analysts are continuing to review the documents.

The information shatters the government's conventional thinking about bin Laden, who had been regarded for years as mostly an inspirational figurehead whose years in hiding made him too marginalized to maintain operational control of the organization he founded.

Instead, bin Laden was communicating from his walled compound in Pakistan with al-Qaida's offshoots, including the Yemen branch that has emerged as the leading threat to the United States, the documents indicate. Though there is no evidence yet that he was directly behind the attempted Christmas Day 2009 bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner or the nearly successful attack on cargo planes heading for Chicago and Philadelphia, it's now clear that they bear some of bin Laden's hallmarks.

He was well aware of U.S. counterterrorist efforts and schooled his followers in working around them, the messages to his followers show. Don't limit attacks to New York City, he said in his writings. Consider other areas such as Los Angeles or smaller cities. Spread out the targets.

In one particularly macabre bit of mathematics, bin Laden's writings show him musing over how many Americans he must kill to force the U.S. to withdraw from the Arab world. He concludes that the smaller, scattered attacks since 9/11 were not enough. He tells his disciples that only a body count of thousands, something on the scale of the Sept. 11 attacks, would shift U.S. policy.

He schemed about ways to sow political dissent in Washington and play political figures against one another, officials said.

The communications were in missives sent via plug-in computer storage devices called flash drives. The devices were ferried to bin Laden's compound by couriers, a process that is slow but exceptionally difficult to track.

Intelligence officials have not identified any new planned targets or plots in their initial analysis of the 100 or so flash drives and five computers that Navy SEALs hauled away after killing bin Laden. Last week, the FBI and Homeland Security Department warned law enforcement officials nationwide to be on alert for possible attacks against trains, though officials said there was no specific plot.

Officials have not yet seen any indication that bin Laden had the ability to coordinate timing of attacks across the various al-Qaida affiliates in Pakistan, Yemen, Algeria, Iraq and Somalia, and it is also unclear from bin Laden's documents how much the affiliate groups relied on his guidance.

The Yemen group, for instance, has embraced the smaller-scale attacks that bin Laden's writings indicate he regarded as unsuccessful. The Yemen branch had already surpassed his central operation as al-Qaida's leading fundraising, propaganda and operational arm.

Britain's two largest terrorist attacks and plots -- the 2005 suicide bombings and the trans-Atlantic liquid explosive plot to blow up airliners in 2006 -- both had trails that led back to Pakistan and al-Qaida figures.

Most of the recent plots have been traced to al-Qaida in Yemen, British officials have said.

Developments

VIEWING THE PHOTOS: Selected members of Congress are making appointments at CIA headquarters to view graphic photos of Osama bin Laden's corpse.

The CIA is allowing members of the House and Senate Intelligence and Armed Services committees to see the photos in a secure room at the agency's headquarters in Langley, Va., a CIA spokesman said Wednesday.

Sen. James Inhofe, a Senate Armed Services Committee member, said he saw photos of bin Laden's body Wednesday at the CIA.

One of the photos was of bin Laden's head and showed what appeared to be the fatal wound, according to Inhofe, R-Okla. Brain matter was hanging out of the eye socket, Inhofe said.

"It wasn't a very pretty picture," he said.

WIFE'S CHOICE: Osama bin Laden once gave his wives the option of leaving Afghanistan, but his young Yemeni bride was determined to stay and be "martyred" alongside him.

The pledge early in her marriage to the terrorist leader, recounted by her family, reflected the determination of Amal Ahmed Abdel-Fatah al-Sada, now 29, to rise above her divorced mother's social standing.

Amal al-Sada was shot in the leg as she rushed the Navy SEALs, according to U.S. officials. She is now in Pakistani custody, along with her daughter and two other bin Laden wives, according to Pakistani officials, who say they eventually will be repatriated.

MOST AMERICANS APPROVE: A new Associated Press-GfK poll shows the nation supporting the raid with rare unanimity, and the glow from the operation is also boosting approval for President Obama's handling of terrorism and the war in Afghanistan.

Few events have sparked such soaring approval from the nation, and almost nothing has since George W. Bush's handling of the U.S. campaign against terrorism in the months after the Sept. 11 attacks. Enthusiasm for the risky, successful raid has given Obama some of his highest marks since early in his presidency, and more than half of Americans now say he deserves to be re-elected.

REPLACING BIN LADEN: Al-Qaida has not named bin Laden's successor, but all indications point to his No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri. The question is whether al-Zawahri, or anyone, has the ability to keep so many disparate groups -- affiliates in Pakistan, Yemen, Algeria, Iraq and Somalia -- under the al-Qaida banner. The groups in Somalia and Algeria, for instance, have very different goals focused on local grievances. Without bin Laden to serve as their shepherd, it's possible al-Qaida will further fragment.

-- From wire reports


Top headlines

High court rules in probation case

Georgia's Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision concluding that it is legal for local courts to contract with private companies to supervise offenders on probation for minor violations.
Search Augusta jobs