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This report is a study of 17 declassified documents captured during the Abbottabad raid and released to the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC). They consist of electronic letters or draft letters, totaling 175 pages in the original Arabic and 197 pages in the English translation. The earliest is dated September 2006 and the latest April 2011. Some of the letters are incomplete and/or are missing their dates, and not all of the letters explicitly attribute their author(s) and/or indicate the addressee. In addition to Bin Ladin, the recognizable individuals who appear in the letters either as authors or as recipients are `Atiyyatullah and Abu Yahya al-Libi, both of whom are al-Qa`ida leaders; Adam Yahya Gadahn, the American al-Qa`ida spokesman and media advisor; Mukhtar Abu al-Zubayr, the leader of the Somali militant group Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahidin; Abu Basir (Nasir al-Wuhayshi), the leader of the Yemen-based al-Qa`ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP); and Hakimullah Mahsud, the leader of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Given the small collection of documents released to the CTC, it is impossible to construct a coherent evolution of al-Qa`ida or its current state. “Letters from Abbottabad” is an initial exploration and contextualization of 17 documents that will be the grist for future academic debate and discussion.
In contrast to Bin Ladin’s public statements that focused on the injustice of those he believed to be the “enemies” (a`da’) of Muslims, namely corrupt “apostate” Muslim rulers and their Western “overseers,” the focus of his private letters is Muslims’ suffering at the hands of his jihadi “brothers” (ikhwa). He was at pains advising them to abort domestic attacks that cause Muslim civilian casualties and instead focus on the United States, “our desired goal.” Bin Ladin’s frustration with regional jihadi groups and his seeming inability to exercise control over their actions and public statements is the most compelling story to be told on the basis of the 17 declassified documents.