Bin Laden Maintained Operation Role In Al-Qaida

There are still more developments in the aftermath of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaida, in a statement on the Internet, has acknowledged the death of their leader and threatened new attacks. And documents recovered from bin Laden's hideaway reveal that far from being disconnected, bin Laden maintained an operational role in the terrorist organization. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston shares the details with Melissa Block.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

We have more developments now in the aftermath of the raid that ended with the death of Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaida's first reaction came today. The group confirmed their leader is dead and threatened new attacks in response. What's more, the documents recovered from bin Laden's Pakistan compound are providing new insight into just how large a role he still played in the terrorist organization.

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston joins me now.

And, Dina, Al-Qaida released a statement confirming bin Laden's death. What else was in that statement today?

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, what I was really struck by was how long the message was. It was posted on these jihadi websites where they typically find these kinds of messages. And it ran four pages, singled-spaced in translation - that's a pretty long message.

And some of it was really predictable. It threatened more attacks and made clear that even though bin Laden was dead Al-Qaida was still alive and would live on. And there was some really colorful language. It said that al-Qaida would continue to be a curse, hunting Americans and their agents. And they said America's joy would soon turn to sadness, and blood will mix with tears.

I was also struck by the fact that the message singled out Pakistan. It called on people there to overthrow their government and cleanse the shame that they have because bin Laden died there. So as I said, there was a lot of really colorful stuff.

BLOCK: And, Dina, how far do you think that statement from Al-Qaida will go toward putting to rest conspiracy theories about bin Laden's death?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, I think there will always be some people who say he isn't dead. But as you know, one of the arguments for releasing photographs of bin Laden after the raid was to prove to the world that he really was dead. And President Obama ended up deciding not to release those photographs. And now Al-Qaida's message essentially provides that confirmation.

BLOCK: Now, we mentioned that that the SEAL team that went into that compound took with them a number of documents, computers, thumb drives, things like that; and information is leaking out about what's been learned so far. Would have you heard?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, it's going to take a little while to go through all this information. But the initial scrub reveals that bin Laden had a much more active role in the organization than they thought he did. I mean intelligence officials had sort of assumed that bin Laden was in such seclusion, in a cave somewhere or something like that, that he was unable to give Al-Qaida much direction. And then once it became clear that he was in Pakistan, they suspected that he was playing a much bigger role than they thought.

And U.S. officials tell NPR that there were these handwritten notebooks that suggested bin Laden was actually helping plan and plot and hone future attacks. And in one notebook, they said, there was a note that was dated from February 2010, in which bin Laden mused about launching attacks against the U.S. rail system this year.

He wrote: it could either be planned to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, or possibly timed for other big events like the State of the Union address. And that's why the Department of Homeland Security yesterday released this advisory to law enforcement, basically telling them to be extra vigilant about the rail system. It was mostly out of an abundance of caution. And they said publicly that there was no reason to think that this was an operational plot. And there was no reason to think that that there was any planning that took place beyond what bin Laden had in this notebook.

BLOCK: OK. And what about information from people who were at the compound, including bin Laden's wife who's now in the custody of Pakistani authorities?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Yeah, it's interesting because the U.S. authorities have told us that the original plan was to take bin Laden's wife and kids out of the compound when the Navy SEALs left. And the thinking was that they would provide all this great intelligence on where bin Laden had been and who he had been meeting with.

But when one of the helicopters went down, they ended up having to leave the family in the compound. So that's why the Pakistanis have them and they're interviewing them now, and they're getting a little more immediate intelligence.

I mean no one thinks that bin Laden would have told his wife about operations. But she can speak to where she's been, where he's been. And she's apparently told authorities that she's been at that compound for five years, and never left that third floor apartment where he was killed. What's unclear is whether bin Laden was there with her the whole time. And U.S. authorities have asked to interview her and so far the Pakistanis have said no.

BLOCK: If the Pakistanis change their mind, are their CIA operatives there in Pakistan who would then go in and interview her?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Yes, we think there are. I mean from what we understand, we have some new details on what went on before Monday's raid. A senior intelligence officer who knows about the raid told our colleague, Tom Gjelten, that they had CIA operatives in the safe house near bin Laden's compound, basically watching it and looking for movement. And they provided, you know, on-scene surveillance and basically were trying to understand the day-to-day rhythms of the place.

And there had been some discussion about the agents actually taking part in Monday's raid. The thinking was that they could provide essentially perimeter security during the raid, in case Pakistani authorities showed up. And then officials decided that was too risky. So most of the agents in the safe house were out of Pakistan before the operation even started, and there are a few agents that are still there.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston, thanks so much.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're very welcome.

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