The al Qaeda documents released by the West Point Combating Terrorism Center provide a unique and tantalizing insight into the inner workings of al Qaeda and its boss Osama bin Laden. What is perhaps most interesting is who bin Laden tasked for what he hoped to be his greatest terror attack, the assassination of President Barack Obama.
Osama wanted to kill Obama because the president is “the head of infidelity, and killing him automatically will make Biden take over the presidency. Biden is totally unprepared for that post, which will lead the U.S. into a crisis.” To carry out this ambition, the emir of al Qaeda turned to a trusted and well-trained terrorist, Muhammad Ilyas Kashmiri.
In 2011, Kashmiri was al Qaeda’s top Pakistani operative. He was born in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir on February 10, 1964. Trained in the camps of the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence directorate (ISI) and then the elite Pakistani commando group, the Special Services Group (SSG), he was the darling of the Pakistani army for years. He fought in the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan where he lost an eye and a finger. Then he took the war to India both in Kashmir and in New Delhi itself.
He formed his own militant group called the 313 Brigade, after the 313 fighters who joined the prophet Muhammad in an early Islamic victory. His exploits in India were legendary. He was personally decorated and thanked by the then head of ISI, Mahmud Ahmad and Pakistani’s dictator, Pervez Musharraf, in 2000. But Kashmiri broke with his ISI and army friends in 2002 when Musharraf decided to give the Americans at least some help against al Qaeda.
Kashmiri took his 313 Brigade into al Qaeda’s camp and assisted in training Taliban fighters in Afghanistan and began targeting his former friends in the ISI. His teams killed at least one senior ISI officer. The United Nations credits him as a key player in the plot to murder former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007.
The Pakistani-American David Headley, who has confessed to plotting the Mumbai terror attack in November 2008, says Kashmiri was his key contact in al Qaeda. The two worked on a plot to attack a Danish newspaper office in Copenhagen in 2009. That was foiled when the FBI arrested Headley, but Kashmiri continued planning to carry out Mumbai-style attacks in Europe. Another was foiled in Denmark at the end of 2010.
We don’t know if Kashmiri ever did anything to turn bin Laden’s order to kill Obama into a real plot. He was killed by a drone attack last June right after the SEAL raid. Perhaps there is more about his plot in what has yet to be released from the documents found in Abbottabad. What has been released so far is only a tiny sample of what was obtained in bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, and readers would be wise to make their judgments tentative until we see much more.
According to administration officials, the SEALs brought out of Abbottabad the equivalent of a small college library of documents and electronic files, perhaps up to 6,000 documents all together. The head of al Qaeda was hiding but he was not incommunicado. CTC has released only 17 documents, a small sample to work from. As the CTC report emphasizes, there is much that is missing. For example, although there are notes about “trusted Pakistani brothers,” the references to Pakistan are sparse and incomplete. Thus the mystery of who helped hide bin Laden for nine years in Pakistan remains unanswered. There is also very little here about bin Laden’s deputy and heir, Ayman Zawahiri, perhaps because those documents are still being exploited to find the new emir of al Qaeda.
What does emerge is a picture of a frustrated bin Laden. He is in communication with his empire of global terror but can’t make it do what he wants. His minions keep making basic mistakes like killing far more Muslims than Americans. Bin Laden learned from the mistakes of his lieutenant in Iraq, Abu Musaib Zarqawi, that indiscriminate attacks on fellow Muslims was counterproductive to al Qaeda, and he is seen in these letters trying to convince other terrorists not to make the same error. He admonishes the Pakistani Taliban, for example, not to attack mosques and innocents. He was frustrated that his grand strategy was being undermined by his own supporters’ stupidity. Of course, that is an almost inevitable problem when you work with murderers and fanatics.
Bin Laden was also frustrated by the pressure the United States was putting on his terror apparatus. The drones were devastating his organization in Pakistan. He worried for his young son Hamza’s protection and urged him to go to Qatar and study Islam. Bin Laden wanted revenge and wanted his nemesis murdered. Kashmiri was the man for the job.