WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States on Saturday released several videos seized during the Osama bin Laden raid, part of what US officials said was the largest trove of terrorism material ever collected.
A senior intelligence official told reporters the material showed bin Laden had remained a key leader in Al-Qaeda before he was killed by US commandos, and had overseen both strategy and operations from his secret compound in Pakistan.
“He was far from a figurehead, he was an active player,” the official told a briefing at the Pentagon.
The large collection included digital, audio and video files, printed material, computer equipment, recording devices and handwritten documents, he said.
“As a result of the raid, we have acquired the single largest collection of senior terrorist materials ever,” the official said.
The official said the materials were already “proving valuable,” and that “we are disseminating intelligence across the US government based on what we found.”
Five videos — with the audio removed — were made public including an extraordinary one in which the Al-Qaeda chief is seen holding a remote and sitting with a blanket over him, watching images of himself on television in a spare-looking room.
In that video, Bin Laden has a gray beard, but in other videos that were apparently meant for distribution as propaganda, his beard looks dyed black as he reads from a text.
“You can see that in this video Bin Laden has not colored or trimmed his beard, suggesting this practice is one he reserved for films he planned to distribute,” the official said as the videos were shown to reporters.
“You can also see him gesturing to the person recording him, to focus on the image on television of Bin Laden firing a rifle,” he said.
Another video is styled as a “message to the American people” and is believed to have been recorded in October or November, the official said.
“This clearly was an Al-Qaeda leader who was very interested in his own image,” the official said. He “jealously guarded his image.”
The videos were seized during the daring raid last Sunday-Monday that killed bin Laden and ended the most elaborate manhunt in history.
The tracking of the Al-Qaeda chief and the raid, in which more than 20 US Navy SEALs swooped on bin Laden’s residence in Abbottabad and shot him dead, represented an intelligence coup on a historic scale, the official said.
“This is the greatest intelligence success perhaps of a generation,” the official said.