New Documents Reveal Bin Laden Wanted to Set Up Shop in Iran

New documents taken from his compound show the group was much more tolerant of the Shiite state than its successor, ISIS. It even contemplated opening an office there.

05.20.15 10:50 PM ET

An undated report on Al Qaeda’s external operations reveals that the group tried to establish a recruitment office in Iran but backed off because it was deemed to be too expensive.

“[W]e have thought to open an office for ourselves in Iran, to receive whoever comes to join us or someone traveling, but we have backed off this idea because it will be very expensive,” the document reads (PDF). Though undated, it is likely from 2006 or later, given a later passage’s emphasis on attacking Danish targets, presumably over Muhammad cartoons.

Another document, however, concerns itself with the group’s public image, and gives instructions for a would-be spokesman for the group.

“It is better if he comments on what Saudi Arabia channels have been circulating, incorrect news that stated al-Qa’ida has links to Iran,” it reads.

Those are just revelations from a massive document dump by the U.S. of files it obtained during the 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. Dubbed “Bin Laden’s Bookshelf,” the document dump includes the sheikh’s English-language library and correspondence with close associates and family. Many of the sources point to a complicated history between Iran and Al Qaeda, which included mass imprisonment and strategic permissiveness.

Many al Qaeda members and families found themselves in Iranian custody after fleeing Afghanistan during the U.S. invasion in 2001. In one account, the Iranians are referred to as “people whose mannerisms resemble those of the Jews and hypocrites.” A detailed inventory of arrests suggests that Iran detained many high-level members of the terrorist group, including Abu Ghaith and Sayf al Adl.

“I think it’s irrefutable that Iran would turn a blind eye to al Qaeda activities” when it benefited them, Brookings Institution fellow Will McCants told The Daily Beast. Al Qaeda didn’t have as hardline an anti-Shia stance as some of its successors like ISIS because “they understand they have to make compromises.”

Despite some sharp language, McCants said al Qaeda leaders seemed to be sometimes happy with a “detente” with Tehran.

The Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Clint Watts, however, told The Daily Beast that the documents show Al Qaeda members “seem to be pretty hating on Iran.”

Among those held in Iran appear to be Bin Laden’s wife and son, Umm Hamzah and Hamzah. One letter states that they are to be kept in a safe house once they leave the country, until Bin Laden decides whether to send the boy to Qatar. Another letter shows a concerns that Iran would spy on Bin Laden’s family after they leave:

Before Um Hamzah arrives here, it is necessary for her to leave everything behind, including clothes, books, everything that she had in Iran… Everything that a needle might possibly penetrate. Some chips have been lately developed for eavesdropping, so small they could easily be hidden inside a syringe. Since the Iranians are not to be trusted, it is possible to implant a chip in some of the belongings that you might have brought along with you…”

Documents revealed much more about Al Qaeda.


A letter apparently addressed to a senior Al Qaeda urges leaders to tell fighters to not “cut down trees on a large scale […] without replacing them.” “Cutting down trees should be limited to the needs of the people and local consumption and not for export,” the August 2010 letter reads. “I am sure that you are aware that climate change is causing drought in some areas and floods in others.”

Another document, a “Letter on the implications of climate change,” calls on Muslims to participate in relief work and to prepare in advance for future natural disasters. At the same time, however, the letter takes time to critique an “Islamic” London-based NGO for providing aid to Christians and Hindus, and for employing female aid workers. It notes that the NGO said it would be unlikely to be able to help mujahideen in Pakistan.

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Conspiracy Theories

“Jews were able to control world forces with these two sciences, sociology and psychology,” reads one. (Another document released from that trove instructs members to “avoid talking about the Jews and Palestine when talking to the Germans. This subject is very sensitive to in Germany, and it will bring negative results to our goal.”)

About half of the 38 English-language books Bin Laden possessed were about conspiracy theories, from freemasons to even 9/11.

Human Resources

The U.S. also released an official application form for Al Qaeda.

“Please enter the required information accurately and truthfully,” it reads. “Write clearly and legibly. Name, age, marital status. Do you wish to execute a suicide operation?”

Thirst for Poison

In an English-language document taken from bin Laden’s compound, Al Qaeda said it planned to use cyanide and ricin in terrorist attacks.

“A few grams of Cyanide (easily manufactured and sold by the kilo in third world countries) or Ricin diluted in water and injected randomly in anything ingested on super markets shelves, picnics, restaurants etc […] are just examples of what multinational Terror Franchises need to disseminate NONSTOP, UNPREDICTED, INVISIBLE SUDDEN DEATH,” a document said. It includes a terrorist wishlist including explosives, toxic agents, electronics, and more. The author is believed to be Abu Hafez, the leader of Al Qaeda’s external special ops.