Al Qaeda’s leaders were increasingly worried about spies in their midst, drones in the air and secret tracking devices reporting their movements as the U.S.-led war against them ground on, documents seized in the 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden’s Pakistani hideout and reviewed by Reuters reveal.
The cache of 113 documents, translated and declassified by U.S. intelligence agencies, are mostly dated between 2009 and 2011, intelligence officials said.
The documents – the second tranche from the raid to have been declassified since May 2015 – depict an al Qaeda that was unwavering in its commitment to global jihad, but with its core leadership in Pakistan and Afghanistan under pressure on multiple fronts.
U.S. President Barack Obama has said drone strikes and other counter-terrorism operations depleted al Qaeda’s original leadership, culminating in bin Laden’s killing by U.S. Navy SEALs on May 2, 2011. In the years since, the organization has proved resilient from Afghanistan to North Africa, and its ideological rival, Islamic State, has grown and spread.
In one document, bin Laden issues instructions to al Qaeda members holding an Afghan hostage to be wary of possible tracking technology attached to the ransom payment.
“It is important to get rid of the suitcase in which the funds are delivered, due to the possibility of it having a tracking chip in it,” bin Laden states in a letter to an aide identified only as “Shaykh Mahmud.”
In an apparent reference to armed U.S. drones patrolling the skies, bin Laden says his negotiators should not leave their rented house in the Pakistani city of Peshawar “except on a cloudy overcast day.”
While the document is undated, the hostage, Afghan diplomat Abdul Khaliq Farahi, was held from September 2008 to late 2010.
Another, fragmentary document acknowledges that al Qaeda executed four would-be volunteers on suspicion of spying, only to discover they were probably innocent, according to senior U.S. intelligence officials authorized to discuss the materials in advance of their public release.
“I did not mention this to justify what has happened,” wrote the undated letter’s unidentified author, adding, “we are in an intelligence battle and humans are humans and no one is infallible.”