The Obama administration suppressed the release of the trove of al Qaeda documents seized in the May 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden’s Abbotabad lair. It released a grand total of 571 documents and sat on the rest. Why so shy?
Today the Trump administration released hundreds of thousands of the documents as well as images and computer files recovered in the raid. Tom Joscelyn and Bill Roggio provide an overview here at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Long War Journal. Joscelyn has separately posted bin Laden’s journal online here. Based on a video released with the documents today, Tom has also separately posted an account of the video of Hamza bin Laden’s wedding here. FDD infers that the wedding took place in Iran.
All of which raises the question why the Obama administration was so keen to hold the documents released today. In their overview, Joscelyn and Roggio note that the files reveal new details concerning al Qaeda’s relationship with Iran. They write, for example:
One never-before-seen 19-page document contains a senior jihadist’s assessment of the group’s relationship with Iran. The author explains that Iran offered some “Saudi brothers” in al Qaeda “everything they needed,” including “money, arms” and “training in Hezbollah camps in Lebanon, in exchange for striking American interests in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.” Iranian intelligence facilitated the travel of some operatives with visas, while sheltering others. Abu Hafs al-Mauritani, an influential ideologue prior to 9/11, helped negotiate a safe haven for his jihadi comrades inside Iran. But the author of the file, who is clearly well-connected, indicates that al Qaeda’s men violated the terms of the agreement and Iran eventually cracked down on the Sunni jihadists’ network, detaining some personnel. Still, the author explains that al Qaeda is not at war with Iran and some of their “interests intersect,” especially when it comes to being an “enemy of America.”
Bin Laden’s files show the two sides have had heated disagreements. There has been hostility between the two. Al Qaeda even penned a letter to Ayatollah Khamenei demanding the release of family members held in Iranian custody. Other files show that al Qaeda kidnapped an Iranian diplomat to exchange for its men and women. Bin Laden himself considered plans to counter Iran’s influence throughout the Middle East, which he viewed as pernicious.
However, bin Laden urged caution when it came to threatening Iran. In a previously released letter, bin Laden described Iran as al Qaeda’s “main artery for funds, personnel, and communication.” And despite their differences, Iran continued to provide crucial support for al Qaeda’s operations.
See also Jonathan Last’s notes including the compilation of Weekly Standard pieces by Steve Hayes and Tom Joscelyn arguing for the release of the bin Laden documents. I took the number of 571 documents released by the Obama administration from Last’s notes.
We have a lot to learn, not just about al Qaeda and Iran, but also about the bed the Obama administration has made for us to sleep in with Iran.