Bin Laden’s Syllabus for Fighters, Fears of the Dentist, and Elaborate Will
The latest trove of documents from Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan shed further light on his anxieties.
When we last pored through Osama bin Laden’s declassified documents — the first set of which were released last year — it was clear the al Qaeda leader was long committed to attacking the United States, and was obsessed with Western spy tactics and the French economy.
A new set of bin Laden’s personal papers, released Tuesday by the U.S. Office of Defense Intelligence, includes some quirky directives the terrorist mastermind issued before he was killed by Navy SEALs in his Pakistani compound during a May 2011 raid. Letters bin Laden sent to his wife while she was living in Iran, reading lists for new recruits, and specific information about his will are among the trove of intelligence-rich documents the SEALs swept up during the raid. Foreign Policy has posted just a few of them below:
Bin Laden’s understandable anxieties over surveillance were made obvious in letters to his wife, in which he repeatedly asked her to ensure that the dentist who put a filling in her tooth in Iran did not use the opportunity to plant a SIM card in her gum. Bin Laden seemed well-versed in how this might be carried out.
“The syringe can be of the same size, but its head is slightly bigger than normal, that way, as I previously mentioned to you, they can insert a small chip in it to implant under the skin,” he wrote to her. “The size of the chip is about the length of a grain of wheat and the width of a fine piece of vermicelli,” he added, referencing a noodle slightly thinner than traditional spaghetti.
He went on to insist that she tell him what date she visited the dentist before adding that he was jealous she had such easy access to medical care. “I need to know the date you had the filling, also about any surgery you had, even if it was only a quick pinch,” he said.
The documents also provided a reminder that bin Laden was once very rich. In a will that senior intelligence officials said dates to 1996, he claimed to have about $29 million dollars in Sudan, although it’s not clear whether this was in a bank, or cash, real estate, or some other asset. The bin Laden family made its fortune through its construction business.
One percent of that money was to go to Shaykh Abu Hafs al-Mauritani, who was later one of a handful of al Qaeda’s leaders that opposed the 9/11 attacks, according to the 9/11 Commission.
Syllabus for New al Qaeda Recruits
One document released Tuesday offered insight into the intensity of al Qaeda’s academic program, which included a multi-phase “course of Islamic study.” In addition to memorizing the Hadith and other sections of the Quran, some highlights include lectures on “renouncing worldly things and Islamic legal ethics” and reading sections of “Selected talks on the wisdom of seeking assistance from Infidels,” by Shaykh Hamud.
Students also had to complete three sections of a book the document identifies “Arabic for non-Arabic speakers.” It is not clear if that is the same as this book, which runs for $32 on Amazon and comes with an audio CD. The syllabus makes clear that every phase of the educational program includes some lessons that are taught again and again, with a focus on Palestine, jihad in the Horn of Africa, and “a brief word on raising children.”
Thoughts on Fatherhood
A 21-page document titled “Answers to questions about custody of children and related issues” addresses what its author — identified as Atiyah Abu Abd-al-Rahman — called “questions posed by immigrant sisters” in the event their husband died or moved away. The issue of custody apparently was a point of disagreement among religious scholars, but one common point they all agreed on is that the child “should be committed to hands that clearly prioritize his interest over theirs.”
Al-Rahman, likely the senior al-Qaeda operative killed by a U.S. drone strike in 2011– really took the time to look into various interpretations of custodial issues, but the short version of his answer is that in almost every case, a child — especially under the age of seven — should go to the mother. After that, the child should choose which parent he wants to live with.
His reasoning? Women “are closer and more proper to look after, care, protect while awake or asleep, feed, dress, clean, calm, play with, treat and 2 do all necessary in education. There is no doubt that these are duties for women and no man can perform them with patience, ever. Even if a man ends up winning custody of a child — a father or any of his relatives — this custody has to be represented by a woman from the side of the man, which is one of the conditions for scholars to allow men custody.”
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