Bin Laden's last words leaked online

HE wants to change his business strategy, but he's worried that his instructions are being deliberately ignored by bungling subordinates - or perhaps that those instructions aren't getting through at all.

It could be the fretting CEO of any struggling company.

But in this case it's Osama bin Laden, whose business was al-Qaeda, the deadliest terrorist enterprise of the age.

Yesterday, the US authorities released a first sample of the documents captured during the 2 May 2011 raid in which Bin Laden was killed after a decade on the run.

They depict a leader increasingly isolated and losing control, obsessed with security, and fearful that al-Qaiidais violent ways are alienating the ordinary Muslims it claims to lead.

The declassified material, mostly letters from Bin Laden to associates and commanders in the field, comprises only 17 of the 6,000-plus documents discovered in the compound at Abbottabad, Pakistan.

But according to the US Armyis Combating Terrorism Centre, they show the al-Qaeda leader was "not the puppet master pulling the strings that set in motion jihadi groups around the world".

Rather, it says, Bin Laden "was burdened by what he saw as their incompetence".

The letters are from between September 2006 and April 2011, the last of them dated just a week before he died.

The al-Qaeda that emerges is, in many respects, a corporation like any other, riven by turf fights and personal jealousies - not least of them between Bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki, the terrorist talent spotter and internet propagandist who was killed by a US drone attack in the Yemen last September.

The suggestion is made that al-Awlaki be made the leader of al-Qaeda's powerful affiliate in Yemen.

But Bin Laden vetoes the idea.

His biggest concern was the support he was losing because of the deaths of thousands of Muslim civilians.

In a long letter from May 2010, he writes how immediately after 9/11 his fighters were "standard bearers of the Islamic community in fighting the Crusader-Zionist alliance".

But then, "some of the brothers became totally absorbed in fighting our local enemies".

It was time, Bin Laden urged, for a "new phase" in which the focus was on Islamis real foe, the Americans.

The letters reveal his attention to detail, from which US media outlets might be most promising for al-Qaeda to the merits of a book by The Independentis own Robert Fisk and - constantly - the best ways of eluding American electronic and photographic surveillance.



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