Newly released documents seized from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abottabad show that the jihadist leader exercised control over the terrorist organization during the summer of 2010, when the US drone campaign against al Qaeda’s leadership node in Afghanistan and Pakistan was at its apex. An exchange between bin Laden and his general manager, Atiyah Abd al Rahman, over the possible appointment of al Qaeda’s operations chief for Pakistan to the group’s shura majlis, or executive council, also sheds light on how al Qaeda elevates leaders to the group’s inner circle.
Letters between bin Laden and Rahman, who was killed in a US drone strike in August 2011, discuss the merits of Abu ‘Uthman al Shahri, who served as al Qaeda’s operations chief for Pakistan. Abu ‘Uthman took over as al Qaeda’s operations chief for Pakistan after his predecessor, Osama al Kini, was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan in January 2009.
The letters between the two al Qaeda leaders were introduced as evidence in the recent trial of Abid Naseer, who is alleged to have taken part in al Qaeda’s plotting of attacks in Europe and New York City.
Rahman mentioned Abu ‘Uthman in a letter dated June 19, 2010. “We want your assessment, for you to follow the issue, and then give us guidance,” Rahman wrote to bin Laden. The general manager asked if Abu ‘Uthman swore “fealty” to bin Laden. If ‘Uthman hadn’t made his pledge directly to bin Laden, it was “renewed” by “Sheikh Sa’id,” Rahman assured the al Qaeda emir. Sheikh Sa’id, better known as Sheikh Sa’id al Masri and Mustapha Abu Yazid, was Rahman’s predecessor, and was killed in a US drone strike in May 2010.