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May 03, 2012

Letters from an Occupant: The Abbottabad Documents
Posted by Eric Martin

The Obama administration - through West Point's Combating Terror Center (CTC) - has released a handful of the documents that were seized in the raid on the Abbottabad complex where Osama bin Laden was hiding out. The summary provided by the CTC is a useful analysis of source documents that, in some cases, include letters from bin Laden himself (as an aside, Will McCants has put together a handy, chronological list of the aforementioned documents).


While the documents that were released represent a very small sample, and broad, sweeping generalizations based on their contents should be avoided, the CTC report does offer this analysis with respect to the controversial notion of an Iran/al-Qaeda relationship:
References to Iran show that the relationship is not one of alliance, but of indirect and unpleasant negotiations over the release of detained jihadis and their families, including members of Bin Ladin’s family. The detention of prominent al-Qa`ida members seems to have sparked a campaign of threats, taking hostages and indirect negotiations between al-Qa`ida and Iran that have been drawn out for years and may still be ongoing.

The report goes on to note:

Al-Qa`ida did not appear to have looked to Iran from the perspective that “the enemy of my (American) enemy is my friend,” but the group might have hoped that “the enemy of my (American) enemy would leave me alone.” [...]

Although the documents make it clear that the relationship between Iran and al-Qa`ida is antagonistic, it is difficult to explain Iran’s rationale for detaining en masse these jihadis for years, without due process. One plausible explanation that has been advanced is that Iran held them “in part as a deterrent against a Qaeda attack on Iranian soil.” Another widely reported explanation is that Iran was holding al-Qa`ida members “as a bargaining chip in its war of nerves with the US, and will only allow their extradition in return for substantial concessions.” Whether Iran was aware of it or not, al-Qa`ida had plans to put the released detainees to “work.”

Something to consider, at least in terms of past Iran/al-Qaeda relations. The rest of the report is highly recommended.


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