Documents reveal bin Laden’s bid for US support – 60 Minutes

New translations of Osama bin Laden’s personal documents show that the intent behind 9/11 was not just to kill Americans, but to incite American protests, like those seen during the Vietnam War.

These documents, first recovered during the 2011 raid on bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, have been declassified since 2017, but were until now unorganized and mostly untranslated. The letters offer one of the closest looks to date into the mind of America’s most infamous terrorist.

In her new book, “The Bin Laden Papers,” author and Islamic scholar Nelly Lahoud distills nearly 6,000 pages of personal notes, letters and diaries from Bin Laden’s compound. She spoke to 60 Minutes correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi about the al-Qaeda leader’s motives behind 9/11.

“He thought the American people would take to the streets, replicate the Vietnam War protests and pressure their government to withdraw from Muslim-majority states,” he added. Lahoud told Alfonsi on the show.

It was a huge miscalculation. An October 2001 Gallup poll showed that 88% of Americans approved of military action in Afghanistan.

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Nelly Lahoud and 60 Minutes correspondent Sharyn Alfosni go through documents recovered from Osama bin Laden’s compound

Eric Kerchner/CBS News


According to Lahoud, bin Laden’s papers revealed a mismatch between his ambition and his abilities.

Although he was methodical in planning attacks – including those that never materialized – bin Laden seemed almost naive when it came to international relations. According to his personal papers, he was so surprised when the United States rallied behind George W. Bush that nearly a decade later he was still dealing with his frustration.

“The American death toll in Afghanistan is…so small compared to their losses in Vietnam,” he wrote to one of his associates in 2010, according to Lahoud’s book.

In the years following 9/11, bin Laden’s focus on reaching the American public grew. In newly translated letters, he ordered al-Qaeda to focus all of its resources exclusively on what it perceived to be the original source of American power: its citizens.

Lahoud says the terrorist’s intent was to incite protests in the United States, to turn the American people against their government because, as a 2010 letter read, direct pressure can only be applied to the ” White House, Congress and the Pentagon… when [al Qaeda] directly influences the American people.”

Bin Laden sought to strip the United States of its sense of security, in the hope that this would prompt the United States to withdraw its troops from the Middle East.

In the years following 9/11, bin Laden had plans for further attacks intended to stir up “popular anger and domestic opposition” on American soil. In a 2005 letter, translated by Nelly Lahoud in her book, bin Laden wrote that al-Qaeda should prioritize attacks in America, but only in states that voted for Bush in 2004. Five years later, he advised his associates that new “large-scale operations must go hand in hand with an intensive media campaign disseminated through the American media.”

Lahoud explained that while bin Laden always hated the American people, his letters show he understood the power he wielded. “Interestingly, he didn’t want to shed American blood,” Lahoud told 60 Minutes. “He really wanted their votes.”

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