Bin Laden docs: Al Qaeda asserts authority in letter to Pakistani Taliban leader

A letter seized from Osama bin Laden’s compound that was written in late 2010 by two top al Qaeda leaders to the emir of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan sheds some light on the relationship between the two groups. While the letter reflects a bit of a struggle for the upper hand between al Qaeda and the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, al Qaeda was clearly asserting its authority over the Pakistani terror group.

The letter, which is dated Dec. 3, 2010, was written by Atiyah Abd al Rahman, who at the time served as bin Laden’s chief of staff, and Abu Yahya al Libi, a top religious leader who is now Ayman al Zawahiri’s deputy. In the document, the two al Qaeda leaders are critiquing Hakeemullah’s leadership style as well as responding further to a “draft” of a document that Hakeemullah had previously submitted to al Qaeda. And although the letter to the Taliban emir is contentious, and even ends with a threat from al Qaeda, there is no evidence that the letter caused a rift between the two terror groups.

While the contents of Hakeemullah’s “draft” to al Qaeda are not found among the 17 documents from bin Laden’s compound that were released to the public this week, Hakeemullah appears to have submitted a proposal to al Qaeda that outlines his role as a leader in Pakistan’s jihad. Al Qaeda’s response to Hakeemullah in the Dec. 3 letter appears to be part of its efforts to organize the large Taliban groups in Pakistan’s tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan and refocus their energies on Afghanistan. That effort ultimately succeeded in late 2011, when four major Taliban groups, including the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, formed the Shura-e-Murakeba. Abu Yahya al Libi, Sirajuddin Haqqani, Mullah Mansour, a senior Taliban leader who operates in eastern Afghanistan, and an al Qaeda leader known as Abdur Rehman Al Saudi were responsible for brokering the creation of the Shura-e-Murakeba.

Atiyah and Abu Yahya’s letter is addressed “to the good brother Hakeemullah.” But the niceties stop there, as the al Qaeda leaders upbraided Hakeemullah for his “mistakes.”

“We have several important comments that cover the concept, approach, and behavior of the TTP [Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan] in Pakistan, which we believe are passive behavior and clear legal and religious mistakes which might result in a negative deviation from the set path of the Jihadists Movement in Pakistan, which also are contrary to the objectives of Jihad and to the efforts exerted by us,” the al Qaeda leaders said. They cited the killing of Muslims and using people as “shields” as part of these mistakes.

The authors then said that Hakeemullah’s demand that other jihadists, presumably members of other Taliban groups and even al Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal areas, swear fealty to him, may spark fighting between jihadist groups.

“Considering Hakeemullah as the sole Emir for everyone to swear allegiance to, whoever oppose him and isn’t a member of the movement is an adulterer, the none differentiation between the Jihad Emirate and the Great Imam post, and neglecting the daily conditions of the Muslims; all of which according to the Sharia (Muslim laws) are a misconception of the real situation, and may cause an inter-Mujahidin fighting,” Atiyah and Abu Yahya wrote.

Atiyah and Abu Yahya then turned to “the draft that was written by Hakeemullah Mehsud” and said it is “unacceptable and we don’t approve it because it contains political and Sharia mistakes.” The two al Qaeda leaders’ letter goes on to demonstrate that they have been in communication with Hakeemullah over the draft.

“We already sent our comments on this draft,” they said.

Atiyah and Abu Yahya then chastised Hakeemullah for calling al Qaeda “guests” in Pakistan.

“We want to make it clear to you that we, the al Qaeda is an Islamist Jihadist organization that is not restricted to a country or race, and that we in Afghanistan swore allegiance to the Emir Mullah Muhammad (Omar) who allowed us to carry Jihad,” they said. “Those that call us as guests do that for political reasons and don’t base this attribute on the Sharia, and we ask you and all the Mujahidin not to use this attribute.”

The two al Qaeda leaders also instructed Hakemullah not to poach fighters from Badr Mansoor, or give him commands. Atiyah and Abu Yahya are telling Hakeemullah to obey the chain of command. Badr Mansoor was al Qaeda’s commander in Pakistan, who was killed in a US drone strike in North Waziristan in February 2012.

“We make it clear to you that the brother Badr (Mansoor) is one of the soldiers of the Qaedat al-Jihad Organization who swore allegiance to Sheikh Osama (bin Laden), is with us, under our command, the Emir of a company of ours,” they wrote. “Badr Mansoor and other members of our group are not to be approached to join another organization or to deploy to other locations. Good manners and group work mandate that such a request be presented to his Tanzim (al Qaeda) Emir and superiors.”

Atiyah and Abu Yahya concluded the letter by issuing a threat to Hakeemullah that he would be punished if he did not correct his “grave mistakes.”

“We stress on the fact that real reform is the duty of all, and to succeed we should look for and correct our mistakes and take the advice of others. We hope that you will take the necessary action to correct your actions and avoid these grave mistakes; otherwise we have to take decisive actions from our end,” they stated.

While the two al Qaeda leaders threatened to take “decisive actions,” there is no evidence that the letter caused fissures between the two groups. There have been no reports of clashes between al Qaeda and Hakeemullah’s forces in North Waziristan or elsewhere. In fact, the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan still shelters and supports al Qaeda leaders.

Hakeemullah even signed on to al Qaeda plans for the Pakistani Taliban groups to coordinate actions and end infighting, when he joined the Shura-e-Murakeba nearly one year later, which indicates that the advice, chastisements, and threats he received in the Dec. 3, 2010 letter did not damage the relationship beyond repair.

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  • Saleem Mehsud says:

    But to say this there were differences between the two groups, how one can guess this without having the letters from Hakimullah Mehsud in reply to the al Qaeda’s letters.
    As for as the question of asserting authority on the Pakistani Taliban, it is very clear to all that many Taliban groups admits the power and strength of al Qaeda.
    But this is also a fact that several fighters of al Qaeda came to suicide bomber mastermind of TTP Qari Hussain Ahmad, did Bait-e-Jihad with him and also did jihad under his leadership.

  • Villiger says:

    Good article, Bill and Lisa, thank you.
    A. It is good to see their infighting.
    B. What worries me is this holier-than-thou tone of OBL in his writings. Going on about Sharia and the “correct” path, ‘ordinary’ Muslims (who i assume believe in Sharia), might even be attracted by his above-it-all positioning overtly or inertly. Is this why the large majority of Muslims remain passive? Are they in their silence supporting AQ? If so, Al-qaeda, the phenomenon, is by far the more dangerous, than Al-qaeda the organization.
    As Muthuswamy’s thesis says, if i understand correctly:
    The real question then is this: How is the West, indeed the rest of non-Muslim humanity, going to yank Islam into the 21st Century?

  • What this letter of Al quaeda to hakeemullah shows is that his actions in fighting Pakistani Army is not welcomed by them and that means alQuaeda leader was under the control of Pakistani Army

  • Osama bin Laden was a spoiled son of a corrupt billionaire. The bin Laden family is the major oil services company in Saudi Arabia (biggest reserves in world). Oil reserves allowed corruption and dictatorship to take over these countries. Only a more democratic Saudi Arabia will be a true friend of the democratic world and put an end to extremism.

  • mike merlo says:

    More evidence supporting what many have long known or suspected; that the insurgency confronting Afghanistan from its sanctuaries in Pakistan is not nearly as cohesive certain elements via the media have tried to project or portray.
    This also exposes something little discussed, if at all, which is Pakistan’s tenuous grip on the insurgency.
    Much ado has been made about the ISI & other elements within Pakistan concerning their relations with the insurgency & insurgents. While there is no doubt that this shadowy relationship exists what consistently continues be overlooked & misdiagnosed is the C&C component of the relationship.
    The health & strength of the C&C component appears to be a variable always present yet whose ownership or control can at any given moment shift. Probably more than anything what this reveals is how little we actually know about the nature of this C&C component.

  • Neonmeat says:

    What a fascinating Document. It demonstrates that despite what the Taliban have been saying they do kill civilians and fellow Muslims regularly. So much so that UBL himself must chastise them for it. It seems even he shared our belief that their tactics are barbaric and do great harm to civilians. Of course I am sure UBL would not extend this warning if non muslims were killed but it shows the man did believe in Sharia and Islam in a way that many of his ‘mafia-like’ affiliates such as Mehsuds gang do not.
    What strikes me greatly from many of these documents is UBLs strict adherence to the Sharia even when it may damage his organisation. The man was a scumbag who utterly deserved death a thousand times over but he was not a hypocrit.


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