Recruits at Osama bin Laden’s terrorist training camps in Afghanistan were clamoring for suicide missions against the United States more than a year before the Sept. 11 attacks, according to al-Qaida documents declassified by the U.S. Defense Department.
One document published on the Pentagon Web site this week contained rare criticism of bin Laden from an al-Qaida operative, who accused the terrorist leader of monopolizing decision-making and ignoring advice.
“We must completely stop outside operations until we sit down and consider the disaster we have caused,” said the operative, who used the name Abdel Halim Adel.
Adel appealed to a friend in the al-Qaida leadership to steer the group away from the policies of bin Laden, whom he referred to as Abu Abdullah.
“Stop foreign operations, stop sending people to detention, and stop planning new operations, whether they are ordered by Abu Abdullah or not,” he wrote.
The documents provide a rare glimpse of the mentality and training of recruits at al-Qaida’s camps in Afghanistan, where bin Laden was based until late 2001. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, the United States threw its weight behind opponents of the Taliban regime that hosted bin Laden.
While the camps in Afghanistan have been destroyed, many of those who trained there have returned to their home countries, taking al-Qaida’s ideology and tactics with them.
Documents seized during recent operations
The U.S. military said the documents, published Wednesday, were “captured during recent operations.” Some were seized in the 2003 invasion of Iraq but many, according to U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, were found in Afghanistan.
“Why have the martyrdom operations against the Americans been delayed?” one recruit wrote on a calendar page dated July 8, 2000.
Another recruit referred to the 1998 suicide attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed 231 people, saying: “We look forward to martyrdom operations like the ones in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. What are the characteristics of the man that is required to execute such operations?”
A third recruit asked the leadership why it disapproved of assassination: “Why do you oppose and find it inappropriate, knowing that it cleansed many tyrants?”
The recruits called bin Laden “sheik,” a clerical title. But it was not clear whether their questions were addressed to him or to one of his lieutenants.
“Our sheik, you have previously given us lessons and asked the question: ‘How do we drive the infidels out of the Arabian Peninsula?”’ a recruit said in one document.
He then asked: “Is striking at the origin (America) the priority or is it driving them out (of Saudi Arabia)?”
The documents show al-Qaida members were concerned about their safety and the safety of their families, although they embraced suicide attacks.
Adel, the operative who criticized bin Laden, protests the leadership’s posting on the Internet of a letter in which he sent kisses to his children.
“Please quickly take it off because I think the whole world now knows how many kids I have and their names,” he wrote.
A recruit said a reconnaissance plane had been spotted over the camp and asked: “Why aren’t there enough personal weapons (Kalashnikov rifles) for the self-defense of all the holy warriors, particularly as an attack on the camp by the global infidels is possible anytime?”
Letter believed to be from bin Laden
Bin Laden is thought to have written one of the documents — a letter to Taliban leader Mullah Omar. It is not clear whether the letter was written before or after Omar was overthrown.
Bin Laden told Omar that if they continued attacks in the “Islamic republics” — apparently Muslim-dominated areas of the former Soviet Union — it will “keep the enemies busy and divert them away from the Afghan issue and ease the pressure.”
“It is a fact that the region of the Islamic republics is rich with significant scientific experience in conventional and non-conventional military industries, which will have a great role in future holy war against the enemies of Islam,” the letter said. It was not specific about the type of non-conventional armaments, but seemed to refer to biological and chemical warfare.
The letter also addressed the importance of communicating with the media, a matter on which Mullah Omar would have disagreed. The Taliban leader was known for refusing press interviews and avoiding cameras.
“It is obvious that the media war in this century is one of the strongest methods (of struggle). In fact, its ratio may reach 90 percent of the total preparation for battles,” bin Laden wrote.
The release of the documents, which is expected to continue for months, is designed to allow U.S. lawmakers and the public to investigate issues such as what Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime said about weapons of mass destruction.
The Pentagon cautioned it has made “no determination regarding the authenticity of the documents, validity or factual accuracy.”