Osama bin Laden was plotting to throw the US into crisis by killing Barack Obama and General David Petraeus in an attack on a presidential aircraft, it emerged on Friday.
Documents found in bin Laden’s Pakistani compound disclose that he told senior allies killing Mr. Obama would see America descend into chaos under the leadership of Vice-President Joe Biden.
“Obama is the head of infidelity,” bin Laden wrote. “Killing him automatically will make Biden take over the presidency. Biden is totally unprepared for that post, which will lead the US into a crisis”.
The terrorist chief also wanted to assassinate Gen Petraeus, the then-commander of allied forces in Afghanistan, whose successful leadership saw him tipped as a future US president.
“As for Petraeus, he is the man of the hour,” bin Laden wrote, according to the Washington Post’s David Ignatius, who was shown the documents. “Killing him would alter the [Afghan] war’s path.”
Bin Laden, the 54-year-old head of the terrorist group whose atrocities include the September 11 attacks, was killed in a raid on the Abbottabad compound by US Navy SEALS in May last year.
During their attack, the US forces seized laptops, notepads and hard drives that are said to have amounted to 2.7 terabytes of data – equivalent to about 220 million pages of text.
The first detailed leak of this material shows the al-Qaeda chief selected Ilyas Kashmiri, a Pakistani jihadist, to carry out the attacks against their high-profile American targets. “Please ask brother Ilyas to send me the steps he has taken,” he is said to have written to a top lieutenant.
Kashmiri is believed to have been killed in a drone strike on South Waziristan last June.
A US security official said of the documents: “Bin Laden clearly had bold ambitions to kill as many innocent people as possible”.
However the official claimed that “al-Qaeda’s capabilities did not match bin Laden’s intent” because the network had been “greatly diminished” by the decade-long US effort against them.
Officials claim al-Qaeda would have lacked the weapons to bring down a US aircraft. However bin Laden is said to have ordered aides to “ask the brothers in all regions if they have a brother who can operate in the US”.
He was seeking those who could “live there” or “travel there”, potentially pointing to plans for another unconventional attack rather than a straightforward strike.
The leaked documents are part of a cache that the US government plans to declassify and release to the public within months. They also reinforce previous reports that bin Laden had come to believe that his group’s brand was fatally tarnished and that they should begin using a new name.
Blaming Mr. Obama, who had “largely stopped using the phrase ‘the war on terror’ in the context of not wanting to provoke Muslims,” he reportedly proposed 10 alternative names including “Taifat al-tawhid wal-jihad,” or Monotheism and Jihad Group, according to Ignatius.
The US official told The Daily Telegraph that the documents paint a picture of a “brooding” bin Laden who “was obsessively focused on the group’s own image” from his Abbottabad hideout.
Al-Qaeda’s public relations strategy was sophisticated enough that Adam Gadahn, a US-born media adviser to bin Laden, reportedly specified which media outlets they should send a video message marking the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
“It should be sent for example to ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN,” Gadahn reportedly wrote. However his message showed the group was scornful towards Fox News, Rupert Murdoch’s Right-leaning cable television news network, whose pundits have consistently demanded a more aggressive stance towards al-Qaeda.
“As for Fox News let her die in her anger,” Gadahn wrote, according to Ignatius. “From a professional point of view, they are all on one level – except Fox News, which falls into the abyss as you know, and lacks objectivity, too.”