WASHINGTON — A massive new trove of documents from the Osama bin Laden files has been released to the public — more than six years after they were recovered in the US raid that killed the notorious al-Qaeda leader.
The newly released files provide new insight into the man who spent over a decade as the world’s most wanted terrorist mastermind – and into the workings of al-Qaeda, which, even after its founder’s death, remains one of America’s top terrorism threats.
They also contain the first publicly available images of bin Laden’s son, Hamza, as a young man. A recent report from the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point called the younger bin Laden, who is in his early 30s, “Al-Qaeda’s leader in waiting.”
The new files — which contain the majority of those recovered during the raid — number in the hundreds of thousands and include audio, video and text. They have not yet been translated from Arabic. According to preliminary research by the Washington-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), a think tank that was instrumental in pushing the US government to release the files, some key findings from the documents include:
– A video from Hamza bin Laden’s wedding, which the FDD believes took place in Iran, where Hamza spent years in a form of house arrest, it said in a post today.
– Pages from bin Laden’s personal diary.
– New information about al-Qaeda’s relationship with Iran.
– Further insight into bin Laden’s relationship with al-Qaeda’s global networks.
– And a deeper understanding of bin Laden’s leadership style.
“This is an important moment for the American public in terms of getting a better understanding of al-Qaeda, which continues to threaten the United States, and also to learn more about the man who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks,” said Jonathan Schanzer, the FDD’s senior vice president for research. “And this is an important step for transparency.”
More than a million documents were recovered from bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan by the US Navy SEALs who carried out the raid. Before today, only a small fraction — around 600 — had been released to the public.
Terrorism experts such as Thomas Joscelyn – senior editor of the FDD’s Long War Journal who led its push for the release of the documents – have long pressed the US government to release the full cache, arguing that they will increase the public understanding of the terror group as well as keep US assessments of it in check.
Previous releases have revealed, for example, that bin Laden was still instrumental in running al-Qaeda in the years leading up to his death – even though US intelligence agencies had believed that his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, had assumed day-to-day control. They also provided key insights into al-Qaeda’s relationships with related extremist groups, such as East Africa-based militants known as al-Shabaab.
They showed that bin Laden was alarmed by the growing tendency of Islamist terror groups to target and kill Muslim civilians – a practice ISIS would take to new heights during its rise to prominence in Syria and Iraq. And they contained more mundane revelations, such as the fact that bin Laden’s book shelf contained works by Bob Woodward and Noam Chomsky. US officials have said that they will not release the purported stash of pornography that US troops were reported to have recovered from the compound.
The full trove of files includes personal and family correspondence and al-Qaeda files as well as useless items such as duplicates, blanks and trivial documents. Mike Pompeo, the CIA’s director, had said in September that many more of the files would soon be declassified.
“There are tens of thousands of documents to review,” Schanzer said.