Many of the documents seized from Osama bin Laden’s safe house in Abbottabad provide an interesting window on al Qaeda media operations, and the jihadist group’s relations with the Taliban in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. An undated letter, written by “Ahmad” and addressed to “Sheikh Mahmud,” discussed how al Qaeda in Pakistan interacted with the media and based its own media operations in South Waziristan.
Ahmad’s letter, one of more than 100 released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, addressed “the issue of the ‘official Urdu-language spokesman for al Qaeda Organization in the Pakistani media.'” Shaykh Mahmud is Atiyah Abd al Rahman, al Qaeda’s general manager who was killed in a US drone strike in August 2011. Ahmad may in fact be Ustad Ahmad Farooq, a jihadist who had served as the Urdu-language spokesman for al Qaeda in Pakistan and eventually became the deputy emir for Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent. Ustad Ahmad Farooq was killed in a US drone strike in January 2015. Atiyah thought so highly of Ustad Ahmad Farooq that, according to another letter seized from bin Laden’s compound, he recommended Farooq be appointed to al Qaeda’s top council, or Shura Majlis.
In the first half of the letter, Ahmad stated that al Qaeda must appoint “an official Urdu-speaking spokesman for al Qaeda who should be in constant contact with the Pakistani media and clearly state al-Qaeda’s position on significant events in Pakistan, especially military operations that target the Pakistani regime and have a direct impact — positive or negative — on the organization.”
He then noted that he “contacted several journalists whom we know and trust” and settled on three who were ideal to establish direct contact to disseminate information. The journalists were from Pakistani news outlets ARY News and Jang, and the Associated Press.
Ahmad then reported that “Dr. Maqbul” advised that al Qaeda manipulate the media by starting “a form of competition and rivalry between them to see who can get the latest news or footage from al Qaeda.” According to Ahmad, the journalists were “adamant that the official spokesman must not delay a statement about al Qaeda’s position on any military operation” lest it be dismissed as old news.
Ahmad then proposed that al Qaeda base the media operation designed to work with the Pakistani journalists out of the town of Wana in South Waziristan, which is home to a Taliban group that is supported by Pakistan’s military and intelligence service.
“We can contact them [the journalists] from Waziristan either by phone or fax,” Ahmad suggested. “We can agree on some ‘Wana’ phone numbers that you can call us on and let us know the facts on something… We could also issue this official statement through a phone call from Wana, once we get the facts from you.”
The town of Wana is administered by the Mullah Nazir Group, which is a Taliban subgroup that is listed by the US as a terrorist organization. Mullah Nazir, who was killed by the US in a drone strike in January 2013, identifed himself as an al Qaeda leader.
Al Qaeda could not operate a media office or in any other capacity in Wana without Nazir’s support. Keep in mind that the Pakistani government, military, and Inter Services Intelligence Directorate have and continue to view the Mullah Nazir Group as “good Taliban,” as it does not openly advocate the overthrow of the Pakistani state and opposes the US and India. The government and military have inked numerous peace deals with the Mullah Nazir Group, and did not target it during military operations in South Waziristan.