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Abbottabad Documents Reveal How Bin Laden Was Influenced by Muslim Brotherhood

Abbottabad Documents Reveal How Bin Laden Was Influenced by Muslim Brotherhood

Saturday, 4 November, 2017 - 07:30
Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden. Reuters

A journal made public by the CIA and apparently handwritten by one of Osama bin Laden's daughters offers a glimpse into how the al-Qaeda leader viewed the world around him and reveals his deep interest in the so-called 2011 “Arab Spring” months before he was killed in a US raid on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan in May 2011.

He talks about Libya becoming a pathway for terrorists to Europe; of his visit as a youth to William Shakespeare's home in Britain; of how quickly turmoil had gripped the Middle East.

The 228-page journal meanders among discussions, thoughts and reflections bin Laden shared with his family about how to exploit the Arab uprisings, what to make of the rapid changes unfolding in the Arab world and when al-Qaeda should speak out.

"This chaos and the absence of leadership in the (Arab) revolutions is the best environment to spread al-Qaeda's thoughts and ideas," bin Laden is quoted as telling his family in the document.

Bin Laden's wife, referred to as Um Hamza, tells him about a tape he released seven years earlier calling out the rulers of the region as unfit.

The Associated Press examined a copy of the journal uploaded by the Long War Journal to its website. The CIA released it Wednesday as part of a trove of material recovered during the raid that killed bin Laden.

The journal appears to cover conversations between bin Laden and his daughters, Miriam and Somiya, his wife and his sons, Khaled and Hamza — the latter of whom would become a potential successor to lead the group his father founded.

The journal is titled, "Special diaries for Abu Abdullah: Sheikh Abdullah's points of view — A session with the family," which refers to bin Laden by his traditional name. The conversations took place between February and April 2011, with the journal entries dated according to the Islamic calendar.

During that time, uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt had ousted longtime rulers, touching off protests in Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria. The Middle East was on the cusp of unstoppable change, chaos and turmoil.

In Libya, the uprising would end with Muammar Gaddafi's death months after bin Laden was killed. In Yemen, al-Qaeda would gain a greater foothold and remain active amid the chaos of war. In Syria, the government's lethal response to a protest by schoolchildren in early 2011 would spark mass protests and ignite a war and massive refugee crisis that continues today.

The reflections, jotted at times in blue ink and others in red, refer repeatedly to media reports of what was happening across the region.

At one point, they criticize Al-Jazeera TV's broadcast of gruesome images from a deadly protest in Yemen, saying a warning should have been given to shield children from viewing them. However, the Qatari-backed channel is also hailed for "working on toppling regimes" and for "carrying the banner of the revolutions."

“Al Jazeera, thank God, carries the banner of revolutions,” he says.

Bin Laden appears concerned by the speed of some of the region's revolts, believing that a gradual approach would help avoid the backlash of a counter-revolution as regime figures sought to hold onto power at all cost.

"I am upset by the timing of the revolutions. We told them to slow down," bin Laden is quoted as saying, though it's not entirely clear which countries he is referring to.

On Libya, bin Laden says he believes the uprising "has opened the door for jihadists."

"This is why Gaddafi and his son say that the extremists will come from the sea, which will be an area of operation for al-Qaeda. This will be the Somalia of the Mediterranean," he is quoted as saying.

Still, bin Laden appears reluctant to issue a statement in support of extremists in Libya for fear that if Gaddafi is ousted, the US will try to expand its footprint there.

Yemen is a primary focus of the journal entries. Al-Qaeda's branch there is among its most active in the world and the journal suggests al-Qaeda was plotting an assassination attempt against Yemen's embattled ruler at the time, Ali Abdullah Saleh.

There is little indication that the writer had much information about what was happening in the region beyond what was reported in the media. This could indicate that bin Laden had become isolated in his final months hiding out in Abbottabad. Or it could also be that bin Laden was shielding his relatives from intelligence.

In the early pages of the document, bin Laden is asked about his thoughts on “jihad,” and replies that he first considered it "in secondary school."

He says this was a result of his home and school environment.

In another journal, Bin Laden offers answers to a series of questions about the ideas and movements that influenced him. For example, he lists the Muslim Brotherhood as an organization that shaped some of his thinking.

But says “their curriculum was limited.”

From a young age, he appeared to be unfazed by worldly spoils, recounting a story about declining a new watch from his wealthy father.

He recalls a summer spent studying in the UK when he was 14, including a visit to the home of Shakespeare. His time in Britain left him feeling uneasy and he decided not to return the following summer.

"I saw that they were a society different from ours and that they were morally corrupt," he says.

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