Thursday 22 March 2018

Bin Laden's views on Arab Spring revealed in family journal

The documents show Osama bin Laden's views on the Arab Spring (AP Photo/Mazhar Ali Khan, File)
The documents show Osama bin Laden's views on the Arab Spring (AP Photo/Mazhar Ali Khan, File)

A journal made public by the CIA and apparently handwritten by one of Osama bin Laden's daughters reveals his deep interest in the 2011 Arab Spring revolutions unfolding in the months before he was killed in a US raid.

He talks about Libya becoming a pathway for jihadis to Europe, of his visit as a youth to William Shakespeare's home in Britain, as well as how quickly turmoil had gripped the Middle East.

The 228-page journal meanders among discussions, thoughts and reflections bin Laden shared with his family about how to exploit the uprisings, what to make of the rapid changes unfolding in the Arab world and when al Qaida should speak out.

"This chaos and the absence of leadership in the revolutions is the best environment to spread al Qaida's thoughts and ideas," bin Laden is quoted as telling his family in the document.

Bin Laden's wife, referred to as Um Hamza, assures him that a tape he released seven years earlier calling out the rulers of the region as unfit could be one of the major forces behind the Arab Spring protests roiling the region.

The CIA released the journal on Wednesday as part of a trove of material recovered during the May 2011 raid that killed bin Laden, then took down the files, saying they were "temporarily unavailable pending resolution of a technical issue."

The journal appears to cover conversations between bin Laden and his daughters, Miriam and Somiya, his wife and his sons, Khaled and Hamza - the latter of whom would become a potential successor to lead the group his father founded.

The journal is titled, "Special diaries for Abu Abdullah: Sheikh Abdullah's points of view - A session with the family," which refers to bin Laden by his traditional Arabic name.

The conversations took place between February and April 2011, with the journal entries dated according to the Islamic calendar.

During that time, uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt had ousted longtime autocratic rulers, sparking protests in Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria.

Bin Laden appears concerned by the speed of some of the region's revolts, believing that a gradual approach would help avoid the backlash of a counter-revolution as regime figures sought to hold onto power at all cost.

"I am upset by the timing of the revolutions. We told them to slow down," bin Laden is quoted as saying, though it's not entirely clear which countries he is referring to.

On Libya, bin Laden says he believes the uprising "has opened the door for jihadists."

"This is why Gaddafi and his son say that the extremists will come from the sea, which will be an area of operation for al Qaida. This will be the Somalia of the Mediterranean," he is quoted as saying.

There is little indication that the writer had much information about what was happening in the region beyond what was reported in the media.

This could indicate that bin Laden had become isolated in his final months hiding out in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where US forces would find and kill him a little over a month later, or it could also be that bin Laden was shielding his relatives from al Qaida intelligence.


Press Association

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