A trove of documents belonging to Osama bin Laden have revealed that the terrorist was planning a second attack against the US just three years after 9/11.
In May 2011, Navy SEALs killed bin Laden at his home in Abbottabad, Pakistan, during Operation Neptune Spear. During the raid, the SEALs discovered the home was filled with bin Laden’s correspondence with other al-Qaeda members. They collected as much evidence as they could carry before fleeing the home.
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Dr Nelly Lahoud was tapped by West Point’s Combatting Terrorism Centre to analyse bin Laden’s letters after they were declassified in 2012. It was her work that revealed bin Laden’s plans in 2004.
After bin Laden spent three years incommunicado in the wake of 9/11 – a necessary silence he maintained while fleeing US troops – the terrorist leader reconnected with surviving al-Qaeda members and began planning his next attack.
According to the letter, bin Laden suggested the next attack be similar to the September 11th attacks, but that plan would have seen operatives chartering the planes rather than hijacking commercial airliners.
He also reasoned that if obtaining airplanes became too difficult, al Qaeda could switch focus to the US rail system.
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Dr Lahoud explained how bin Laden was involved in the granular planning of the attack, even utilising his engineering background to devise methods for causing destruction.
“He wanted to have 12 metres of steel rail removed so that, this way, the train could be derailed. And we find him, explaining the simple toolkit that they could use. You know, he said, ‘You’re– you could use a compressor. You could use a smelting iron tool,'” she said.
At the time al-Qaeda’s resources had been decimated by the war in Afghanistan, thankfully preventing the organisation from carrying out the attack.
She said that bin Laden was not aware of the state of al-Qaeda at the time, and insinuated that some of his close confidants had been lying to him about its strength. She said one individual he corresponded with finally told him the truth in one of the letters.
By 2006, al-Qaeda only had $200,000 in its coffers and was losing control of its organisation.
Despite this, bin Laden reportedly continued to dream up attacks. In one, he suggested al-Qaeda members buy small wooden fishing boats in the US and essentially go undercover as fishermen near the nation’s port cities. He wanted them to blow the ships up and sink oil tankers in an effort to harm the US economy.
That plan was eventually thwarted due to the Arab Spring. Bin Laden and the rest of the leadership in al-Qaeda were reportedly concerned and confused by the protests around the Arab world.
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