Washington, May 8: Osama bin Laden's Abbottabad hideout was an “active command and control centre” of al-Qaeda, the US has said, releasing five videos of the slain terror kingpin seized during the daring raid on his compound in Pakistan that showed how he “jealously guarded” his image.
Bin Laden's Abbottabad compound was “an active command and control centre” for al-Qaeda's top leader. It is clear that he was not just a strategic thinker of the group. He was active in operational planning and driving tactical decisions inside al-Qaeda,” a senior intelligence official said, giving an insight into the lifestyle and personality of the al-Qaeda chief.
Authorities have removed audio from the five video clips released last night because it would be inappropriate to spread the words of terrorists and their propaganda messages, especially bin Laden's, the official explained, asserting that footage had not been altered in any other way.
The video clips, not seen in the public domain so far, were being released to underscore two main points: first, to make it clear that bin Laden remained active in al-Qaeda's terrorist propaganda operations, especially in shaping his own image. Second, it is highly unlikely that some of this footage would have resided anywhere else but with bin Laden, the official said.
The newly-released videos included one showing bin Laden—in which his hair and beard are white—watching images of himself on television inside his one million-dollar three-storey building, just 800 yards away from the Pakistan Military Academy in the garrison town of Abbottabad.
Wrapped in a brown blanket and holding a remote control, bin Laden was shown flipping back and forth between clips of himself. The small television was placed on top of a desk with wires running to a nearby cable or control box.
The world's most wanted terrorist, killed by US special forces on May 2, “was far from a figurehead, he was an active player,” the official said.
The material seized from his hideout included digital, audio and video files, printed items, computer equipment, recording devices and handwritten documents. “As a result of the raid, we have acquired the single largest collection of material from a senior terrorist ever.”
“This is the greatest intelligence success perhaps of a generation,” the official said.
“The treasure trove of information has provided some golden nuggets of information on communications within the al-Qaeda and we hope to get a better sense as it continues,” he said.
The CIA, which has set up a task force, to go through every piece of material obtained during the raid, said that the US is still cataloging them.
“The top priority is to identify any threat information and to disseminate it widely within the US government and with our foreign partners. Of course, other top priority is to exploit the information to attract leads to other members of al-Qaeda,” the intelligence official said on condition of anonymity.
The first of the five videos is a complete yet unreleased bin Laden video. He calls it “A Message to the American People”, which US intelligence agencies believe was produced sometime between October 9 and November 5, 2010.
“We don't know why the video hasn't yet appeared,” the official said. In this video, bin Laden's beard was dyed black.
In this message, he repeats his usual themes by condemning the US policy and denigrating capitalism, the official said.
“We're obviously reviewing these and other materials, other videos to see if there's any threat information contained within them.
“I'm unaware personally that this particular video contains any specific or direct threat information but we're obviously continuing to analyse that video,” the official said.
The second video, also produced between October 9 and November 5, 2010, shows 54-year-old bin Laden watching his own images on television.
In the longest of all his videos, bin Laden appears to be browsing various news channels, and finally watching his own image being telecast on a television channel. But it is not yet clear, if this was a live telecast of playing a previous recording.
“It's improbable that this kind of footage would be anywhere but with bin Laden. He jealously guarded his image,” the senior intelligence official said, referring to the second video in which bin Laden has not coloured or trimmed his beard, suggesting that this practice was one he reserved for films he planned to distribute.
One can see bin Laden gesturing to the person recording him to focus on the image on television of bin Laden firing a rifle.
The official said bin Laden was clearly an al-Qaeda leader who was very interested in his own image.
“He took very seriously and engaged very heavily in al-Qaeda propaganda operations, so, we'll have to do some more analysis on that, but our take-away is that he jealously guarded his image,” the official said.
The last three video clips are short and show rehearsal sessions by the al-Qaeda leader. “Some are clearly out-takes. The first video shows bin Laden practising in front of an armoire,” the official said.
The third video clip shows the beginning of a video session where either bin Laden or the filmmaker missed the cue and fumbled the lighting.
“Our preliminary analysis suggests that the armoire is an armoire that matches one at the compound,” the official said.
The fifth and final clip shows an out-take from a practice session in front of a wrinkled sheet. That was probably used as a temporary backdrop, the official noted.
However, the official said there is no indication so far that the Pakistan government was aware of bin Laden's presence in Abbottabad.
“At this point, we have no indication that the Pakistani government was aware that bin Laden was in Abbottabad. We are asking some questions and the Pakistanis themselves have said that they are asking questions.”
The official also said the US is certain that the al-Qaeda chief is dead following DNA analysis and other tests and added that the possibility of a mistaken identity is one in 11.8 quadrillion.
But, the official warned that al-Qaeda, though damaged by bin Laden's death, remains a dangerous terror outfit for the US and rest of the world.
“In the wake of this major counter-terrorism success, the intelligence community remains squarely focused on the safety of the American people. We will sustain intense pressure on al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Al-Qaeda is damaged by bin Laden's death, but the group remains dangerous.” PTI