Osama was worried about drones, spies

WASHINGTON • 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 US-led war against them ground on, documents seized in the 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden's Pakistani hideout reveal.

Reuters and ABC Television were given exclusive access to the cache of 113 documents, mostly dated between 2009 and 2011, which were translated from Arabic and declassified by US intelligence agencies.

The documents - the second tranche from the raid to have been declassified since last May - depict an Al-Qaeda that was unwavering in its commitment to global terrorism, but with its core leadership in Pakistan and Afghanistan under pressure on multiple fronts.

Osama was killed by American Navy Seals on May 2, 2011. In the years since, Al-Qaeda has proved to be resilient from Afghanistan to North Africa, and its ideological rival, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, has grown and spread.

In one document, Osama issued 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," he wrote.

In an apparent reference to armed US drones patrolling the skies, Osama said 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.

In a May 11, 2010 letter to his then second-in-command, Atiyah Abd al Rahman, Osama urged caution in arranging an interview with Al Jazeera journalist Ahmad Zaidan, asserting that the US could be tracking his movements through devices implanted in his equipment, or by satellite.

"You must keep in mind the possibility, however slight, that journalists can be under surveillance that neither we nor they can perceive, either on the ground or via satellite," he wrote.

In what US officials believe was his last will, Osama outlined how at least US$29 million (S$40 million) of his funds and possessions should be apportioned after his death, requesting that most of it be used to continue global terrorism.

In another letter, Osama, writing under the pseudonym Abu Abdallah, expressed alarm over his wife's visit to a dentist while in Iran, worrying that a tracking chip could have been implanted in her dental filling.

"The size of the chip is about the length of a grain of wheat and the width of a fine piece of vermicelli," he wrote. The letter ended with this instruction: "Please destroy this letter after reading it."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 02, 2016, with the headline 'Osama was worried about drones, spies'. Print Edition | Subscribe