ProPublica’s Sebastian Rotella has spoken to “two U.S. officials familiar with material seized during the raid that killed bin Laden” and drawn from them some very interesting details on the till-now mysterious cache. Writes Rotella, “The material has been translated from Arabic and culled from computers, discs, thumb drives and bin Laden’s handwritten notes, said the officials, who spoke to ProPublica on condition of anonymity.”

There are a number of big takeaways: that, according to the officials, bin Laden was micro-managing Al Qaeda from Pakistan, having input on everything from the assignment of leadership positions to targets and timing for attacks; that, while hampered by a lack of phone and Internet access, he managed to get his dictates out through a “clandestine courier system”; that bin Laden had discussed the possibility of attacks that would prevent President Obama’s re-election, “though he also wrote that ‘the alternative could be worse…’” There is a lot of this talk of attacks: the president is the top target; bin Laden ordered underlings to focus on Europe and America.

There is an interesting tidbit too for those who have paid attention to reports on “al Qaeda’s magazine,” Inspire (the fifth edition is here (pdf)). Inspire claims to be the official magazine of al Qaeda’s most active branch, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, with whom the officials report bin Laden maintained contact. He also expressed opinion on what was being said in the English-language Inspire.

Bin Laden was bent on inflicting mass-casualty attacks on the West, the U.S. official said. At the same time, however, he criticized an online propaganda magazine edited by a young American in Yemen, saying the bloodthirsty tone of an article could harm al Qaeda’s image among Muslims, according to the U.S. counterterror official.

The magazine, called Inspire, “apparently discussed using a tractor or farm vehicle in an attack outfitted with blades or swords as a fearsome killing machine,” the official said. “Bin Laden said this is something he did not endorse. He seems taken aback. He complains that this tactical proposal promotes indiscriminate slaughter. He says he rejects this and it is not something that reflects what al Qaeda does.”

The sentiment apparently evokes bin Laden’s concern - previously expressed in al Qaeda letters intercepted in 2004 - about backlash among Muslims who feel the network has gone to violent extremes, especially in Iraq, and killed many Muslims in the process.
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Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.