A newly declassified memo recovered in Osama bin Laden’s compound reveals that al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) considered a truce with the government of Mauritania. It is not clear what, if anything, came of the proposal. But al Qaeda’s senior leadership drafted the terms of a possible deal.
The authors of the undated file state that the matter was raised after AQIM’s leader, Abdelmalek Droukdel (also known as Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud), sent a letter to al Qaeda’s management team.
“The brothers discussed the matter, and Shaykh Mahmud [Atiyah Abd al Rahman] and Shaykh Abu Yahya [al Libi] were tasked to write a legal research on the truce matter with the apostates and as to whether it was permissible – also to propose it to the leadership, after which we would send it to Abu Musab [Abdel Wadoud]…and to correspond with the Mauritanian brothers to convince them,” the US government’s translation reads.
Atiyah Abd al Rahman and Abu Yahya al Libi served as al Qaeda’s general managers before being killed in US drone strikes. Rahman was killed in August 2011 and Libi was struck down in June 2012.
The proposed deal would have been very favorable to al Qaeda. In exchange for not carrying out “any military activity in Mauritania,” al Qaeda would have received a number of concessions.
The Mauritanian government would have been prohibited from intercepting “the Mujahidin,” including “the seekers of knowledge.” Therefore, al Qaeda could have proselytized inside the country without harassment from security forces. All of the “prisoner brothers” were to be released and the government “should commit to not carry out any hostile attack against the brothers from its territories.”
If Mauritania agreed to the proposal then it would have been “effective for one year and subject to renewal” with the government paying “10 to 20 million euros annually….to compensate” for AQIM’s loss of income from “the kidnapping of tourists.”
For obvious reasons, al Qaeda wanted the deal to “remain a secret agreement between both parties.” If the deal was struck, then AQIM could “benefit from the truce and focus on Algeria,” while also safely putting “cadres” in “rear bases available in Mauritania.”
There is no evidence in the files that Mauritania agreed to the proposition.
Although the memo does not indicate precisely when this potential agreement was discussed, there are clues in other bin Laden’s files.
One of the al Qaeda leaders who deliberated the permissibility of a truce was “Shaykh Haji ‘Uthman,” a nom de guerre used by Shaykh Saeed al Masri (also known as Mustafa Abu al Yazid), who perished in a May 2010 drone strike. Like Rahman and Libi, Masri served as al Qaeda’s general manager prior to his demise. This means the discussions took place sometime before May 2010.
Another clue can be found in a letter previously released from bin Laden’s cache. On June 19, 2010, Rahman informed bin Laden that the “brothers in Algeria are definitely waiting for an answer regarding the truce with the apostates and the ransom of their prisoners.” This is almost certainly a reference to the same deal that AQIM wanted to enter into with Mauritania.
Rahman noted that “Sheikh Saeed” (al Masri) had previously sent bin Laden the “letters [from] Algeria and others,” but he wanted to double-check that bin Laden received them. “We wrote to them before, and we told Sheikh Abu Yahya to look into this matter further and I hope that you will write to them and us,” Rahman wrote in June 2010.
Again, this is consistent with the details in the newly released memo. Abu Yahya al Libi and Rahman are named as the jihadists responsible for researching the issue.
Rahman informed bin Laden that their “opinion in that matter” (that is, the proposed truce) was attached to his June 2010 letter.
Sought bin Laden’s advice on expanding AQIM’s shura council
The bin Laden files document other occasions when AQIM sought guidance from al Qaeda’s senior leadership. In another newly released letter, Abdelmalek Droukdel asks bin Laden for his advice concerning the expansion of AQIM’s elite Shura (or advisory) council.
“I decided that it was my duty to expand the Shura council of the Organization [AQIM] to include representatives from all the countries of the Islamic Maghreb,” Droukdel informed bin Laden in the undated letter. Droukdel said it was a “legal right for our Mujahidin brothers in these countries,” and was also “the only way for us to become aware of their situation and circumstances and to know about the condition of the people.”
Droukdel thought that the inclusion of more jihadists on the Shura would help in establishing AQIM’s “plans” and “policies” in their areas. “Also, without knowing the real situation, we cannot advance and spread jihad in the best fashion to the countries of the Islamic Maghreb, which we are striving to cleanse from the filth of apostates and aspiring to liberate from the Western dominance,” he wrote.
Droukdel “decided to include representatives from Tunis, Morocco, Libya, Mauritania, and the Western Sahara.” Still, there was a problem. The “number of brothers who join jihad, such as the Libyans and Tunisians, can be significant,” but “most of them are young (may God extend their lives) and they lack jihadi experience.”
AQIM’s emir selected a jihadist known as “Munir al-Tunisi” to represent the Tunisians, because Tunisi “is known to the brothers in Afghanistan” after participating “in the first Afghan jihad.”
But Droukdel “wanted to consult with” bin Laden “on this issue,” given the al Qaeda master’s “rich and invaluable experience and expertise in the area of organization and management.”
“We await your guidance and counsel for completing this process, which without a doubt will increase the harmony, unity, and strength of al Mujahidin in the Islamic Maghreb,” Droukdel wrote to bin Laden.
It is not surprising that AQIM’s emir would seek guidance from bin Laden. Al Qaeda’s leaders refer to various “districts” in the files recovered in Abbottabad. Each one of these “districts” is a regional branch of al Qaeda’s international organization. The head of each branch swears an oath of loyalty (bay’ah) to al Qaeda’s overall leader. At the time of the aforementioned correspondence, Droukdel was bound by a bay’ah to bin Laden. After the May 2011 raid in Abbottabad, Droukdel reaffirmed his fealty to Ayman al Zawahiri.
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OBL was very much in charge and calling the shots from his secret hideout in Abottabad it seems. Isn’t that pretty much the diametric opposite of what western intelligence had been conveying between 2002-2011?
I think I remember the assessment being that OBL was, too busy hiding and trying to just survive and keep breathing to ever be involved in the day to day of AQ’s international operations, let alone be running the show.
And now they’re saying the same about Zawahiri….