Revealed: bin Laden planned media blitz before dying to mark 9/11 anniversary
In the months before he was killed in a U.S. raid, al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden made plans for a major media blitz to mark the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
The planning was revealed in documents seized in the May 2, 2011, assault on bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan and reviewed by Reuters. In the documents released on Tuesday, bin Laden and other senior al Qaeda leaders discussed names of media outlets, including al Jazeera, CBS and British and Arabic journalists, that could be offered material.
“It is obvious to you that the coming anniversary of the two Manhattan attacks is the tenth anniversary and this event has great importance,” read an unsigned, undated letter that U.S. intelligence officials believe bin Laden authored.
“Therefore care must be given to it and preparation should be given to it.”
Al Qaeda shouldn’t rely on a single media source “to benefit from that event” and to “deliver our message to Muslims…and incite their souls,” the author continued in the letter to an adviser, Atiyah Abdul Rahman.
A senior U.S. intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, described the document and other materials as examples of bin Laden “thinking out loud. He did a lot of that.”
In the letter, bin Laden recommended that al Jazeera, the Qatar-based news network, be told that al Qaeda was “ready to cooperate with them in the area of coverage for the tenth anniversary of September 11.”
“We look for an American channel that is close to neutrality and professionalism, such as CBS, for example,” he continued, adding that the network be sent material “that we want delivered to the American people.”
He also urged that contact be made with Robert Fisk, a correspondent with Britain’s Independent newspaper, and Abdul Bari Atwan, then the editor of the London-based newspaper, Al Quds Al Arabi, who interviewed bin Laden in 1996 in Afghanistan.
“Tell them that the 10th anniversary of September 11 is near and that it is the summation of ten years of severe warfare between the mujahidin and the United States,” bin Laden wrote. “As they are hoisting the banner of opposing opinions, this is an opportunity for us to explain our motivations for the continuation of this war.”
The two journalists should be informed that al Qaeda had a plan for them to “prepare a documentary on the tenth anniversary and we will provide them with written, audio and video information,” bin Laden said.
It was unclear if al Qaeda ever followed through with elements of its plan.
Atwan told Reuters he was surprised to learn he was mentioned in the documents and was unsure of their authenticity. CBS and Al Jazeera did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Fisk could not immediately be reached for comment.
Another, unsigned document suggested that bin Laden kept an eye on his organization’s media material.
Writing to an associate named Hajj Uthman, the author — who U.S. intelligence officials also believe was bin Laden — made recommendations for the production of the network’s “media products,” including not publishing “pictures of prisoners after they were beheaded.”
Al Qaeda commanders should improve their selection of verbiage, media producers should avoid exaggerations, pictures shouldn’t be doctored and no materials should mention suicide bombers who balked after arriving at their targets, he added.
(Additional reporting by Idrees Ali; editing by Stuart Grudgings)