As the so-called “Arab Spring” swept through the Muslim-majority world in 2011, some US officials and counterterrorism analysts proclaimed that al Qaeda had been left “on the sidelines.” However, the limited selection of publicly-available documents captured in Osama bin Laden’s compound in May 2011 tell a different story. The al Qaeda chieftain and his subordinates saw an opportunity.
Atiyah Abd al Rahman, who served as al Qaeda’s general manager, discussed the political upheaval in a letter written to bin Laden just weeks before the al Qaeda CEO was killed in his Abbottabad, Pakistan safe house. Rahman’s letter was introduced as evidence in the trial of Abid Naseer, who is alleged to have taken part in al Qaeda’s plotting in Europe and New York City. Just months after penning it, Rahman was killed in a US drone strike in northern Pakistan.
“We are currently following the Arab Revolutions and the changes taking place in Arab countries,” Rahman wrote. “We praise you, almighty God, for the demise of the tyrants in Tunisia and Egypt.”
Rahman mentions the “situation” in countries such as Libya, Syria, and Yemen, explaining that he has included “some of what” he “wrote to some of my brothers concerning these revolutions.”
“In general,” Rahman argued, “we think these changes are sweeping, and there is good in them, God willing.” Rahman wondered if bin Laden had considered putting out a speech on the uprisings, noting that al Qaeda’s CEO had “not made any statements as of now,” as “hopefully” bin Laden was “waiting for these revolutions to mature and reach stability.”