Letters from Abbottabad: Bin Ladin Sidelined?
May 03, 2012
Letters from Osama bin Laden`s last hideout show him worrying about mistakes made by his network`s affiliates, such as al-Shabaab, and the need to regain the trust of potential Muslim supporters.
Bin Laden seemed uninterested in recognising Somali-based al-Shabaab when the group pledged loyalty to him because he thought its leaders were poor governors of the areas they controlled and were too strict with their administration of Islamic penalties, like cutting off the hands of thieves.
Below is excerpts from Osama Bin Ladin`s documents:
Al-Shabab is not extensively discussed in the documents, but there are enough references that reflect Bin Ladin`s displeasure with the group`s style of governance. There is also a letter authored by Bin Ladin and addressed to the leader of al-Shabab, Mukhtar Abu al-Zubayr. It seems that Abu al-Zubayr had sent a letter to Bin Ladin in which he requested formal unity with al-Qaeda and either consulted him on the question of declaring an Islamic state in Somalia or informed him that he was about to declare one.
On the question of formal unity with al-Qaeda, Bin Ladin politely declined, although he acknowledged that this is a “legal duty” (wajib shar`i), by which he meant that such a duty is incumbent upon all Muslims to work towards and implement when circumstances are conducive. Bin Ladin cited two reasons to explain why he discouraged formal unity. First, he indicated that it would give the “enemy” the excuse to mobilize its forces against Somalia; further, without formal unity, it would remain feasible for foreign aid to reach Muslims in need in Somalia. The second reason Bin Ladin cited is the extreme poverty in Somalia as a result of ongoing wars. He further wanted to promote economic development to enhance people`s lives. “I am determined,” he wrote to Abu al-Zubayr, “to urge merchants in the Gulf states in one of my public statements to [invest] in effective and important developmental projects. These would not be too costly, we have already tested such projects in Sudan. Thus the absence of a public affiliation between the jihadis [in Somalia] with al-Qaeda would strengthen the position of merchants who desire to help their [Muslim] brothers in Somalia.”
On the question of declaring a state (dawla), Bin Ladin advised against it. Yet if al-Shabab believed it was necessary to formalize their authority in Islamic terms, Bin Ladin suggested that the group declare an imara, an emirate/province, not a state, and call it “the Islamic Emirate of Somalia.” In Islamic political parlance, an imara is part of a broader Islamic state/dynasty; it is headed by an amir who is a representative of the caliph/greater imam. As with Yemen, Bin Ladin urged Abu al-Zubayr to restrain his ambitious plans. He concluded his letter to Abu al-Zubayr with gentle advice on governance: “[just as] I urge myself, I urge you to hold on to piety, patience, and perseverance and to adhere to noble characters, those to which when an amir adhere, the affairs of his citizenry would improve.” He further explained to Abu al-Zubayr that the leader`s wisdom is manifest through “his forgiveness, justice, patience and good relationship with his citizenry.” Bin Ladin`s advice is not for stylistic flourish; it is intended to signal to Abu al-Zubayr that his leadership is ultimately measured by how well Somalis are governed and their needs met.
Bin Ladin`s concern over al-Shabab`s mode of governance was explicitly articulated in a letter to `Atiyya. He asked `Atiyya to enquire from “the brothers in Somalia” about the economic situation of the states under their authority: “it does not escape you [Shaykh `Atiyya] that attending to people`s livelihood is an important objective, according to the Law, and it is one of the most important duties of the leader. It is therefore necessary to seek to create an economic force [in Somalia towards achieving this end].” Bin Ladin had apparently sent `Atiyya some suggestions on how to improve the economy, but `Atiyya either ignored them or had not attended to them.
In addition to al-Shabab`s neglect of building a viable economy, Bin Ladin was also worried about the group`s rigid approach to Islamic Law, specifically its inflexible application of the hudud, or deterrent penalties for certain crimes. He must have thought that the group was applying penalties with excess and asked `Atiyya to write “to our brothers in Somalia with some advice on how to deal with those whose offenses are ambiguous (al-mushtabah bihim) so that they may heed the prophetic hadith `avert the hadd penalties by means of ambiguous cases` (idra`u al-hudud bi-al-shubuhat).” Bin Ladin was referring here to a hadith, a report attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, which has served as a basis for jurists to avoid the imposition of severe penalties.
Bin Ladin`s letter to Abu al-Zubayr has echoes of the “it`s not you, it`s me” excuse. Why should he deny al-Shabab official membership in al-Qaeda yet still honor Abu al-Zubayr with a personal and cordial letter that he could have asked `Atiyya to write on his behalf? It is possible that he had been sending personal letters to other regional leaders, believing that even though he could not control them, it was still his duty to continue to advise them to change their ways, in which case his letter to Abu al-Zubayr would fit this pattern. It is also possible that Bin Ladin`s reasoning may not have been entirely noble; it may be that al-Shabab was trying to purchase its way into al-Qaeda. In what was probably his last letter, Bin Ladin asked `Atiyya to inform him of the “sums of money in support of jihadis coming from inside and outside Pakistan, and to itemize separately the sums arriving from each region; and of these to explain what happened with respect to the sum from the brothers in Somalia mentioned in your letter.” In itself, the reference to a distinct sum from Somalia is obviously not conclusive that al-Shabab was attempting to purchase use of the brand, but it may suggest that the sum from Somalia stood out in relation to others. If this is a plausible observation, then it might explain Bin Ladin`s position: although he was not prepared to “franchise” al-Qaeda`s brand, fearing that al-Shabab`s shortcomings would be a liability, he still deemed it necessary to be cordial to the leader of al-Shabab to ensure the group`s continued financial support of jihadi activities, (mis)leading Abu al-Zubayr to think that al-Shabab could eventually be granted membership. Nine months after Bin Ladin`s death, Ayman al-Zawahiri delivered to al-Shabab what Bin Ladin had denied them. Al-Zawahiri and Abu al-Zubayr released a public statement announcing the union between the two groups as a testimony that the “jihadi movement is growing with God`s help.”
Bin Ladin`s decision not to grant al-Shabab a public union with al-Qaeda is intriguing in another respect. A close reading of a related letter may suggest that Bin Ladin`s denial was the subject of internal debate within al-Qaeda and possibly behind his back. The author of the letter was concerned with the content of another letter to which he was made privy. He referred to it as the “letter of our friend” (risalat sahibina) and explained that:
…it is possible that the reason behind it is the fear of those brothers from the expansion and growth of the size of al-Qaeda, with God`s grace and power. They believe that being burdened by this expansive body is weighty on their neck and their capability cannot sustain it. It would make them liable to problems with many sides, especially since they desire or hope to pursue the path of construction and development. That is why they are satisfied with those who seek them, but do not see [the need] to go beyond that…That is why I believe it is necessary to affirm al-Qaeda`s ties to its branches and make it public as a fait accompli and useless to deny…Therefore, I hope that you would reconsider your decision of not declaring publicly the union with the brothers in Somalia simply because we might be pressured in the future to declare that we are not affiliated with them or others.
This letter suggests that Bin Ladin`s position was subject to internal criticism. The pursuit of “construction and development,” which Bin Ladin outlined in his letter to Abu al-Zubayr was atypical al-Qaeda discourse and was not welcomed by the author of this letter. Furthermore, it suggests that some were frustrated with Bin Ladin`s reluctance to welcome publicly groups pledging allegiance to al-Qaeda, accusing him of “being burdened by this expansive body” instead of seeing it as a sign of “God`s grace.” The only regional jihadi group that Bin Ladin publicly granted a formal affiliation is al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia (AQI); all other groups that were formalized to be in the fold of al-Qaeda were announced by Ayman al-Zawahiri.
If Bin Ladin was in charge of al-Qaeda Central (AQC), the content of his correspondence suggests that he did not enjoy a symbiotic relationship with the affiliates on the operational front. The documents reveal that Bin Ladin was burdened by what he viewed as the affiliates` incompetence: specifically a lack of political acumen, an inability to win public support, and most importantly poorly planned operations that resulted in the deaths of thousands of Muslims. If AQC lacks the ability to exert control over its supposed affiliate groups — whether distant groups like AQAP or so called “fellow travelers” like the TTP that are active in the geographical space where it is based — it stands to reason that the power and clout AQC is meant to exert over the global jihadi landscape is most doubtful.
To read the whole document: CLICK Here
Mohamed Ibrahim, 48, testifies before being stoned by militants from Hizbul Islam for illicit sexual intercourse with a woman in the Afgoye district, December 13, 2009. Ibrahim was sentenced to death by a local Islamic court after he was found guilty of infidelity.
Stoning to death
Leader of Hizbul Islam, Hasan Dahir Aweys