Among the documents recovered from Usama bin Ladin’s compound in Abbottabad was the “Letter to Karim”, dated 18 October 2007. The letter was released in 2015 by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). “Karim” likely refers to Abdul Munim al-Badawi (Abu Hamza al-Muhajir), the leader of al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia (AQM), the predecessor organization to the Islamic State, after the group’s founder, Ahmad al-Khalayleh (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi), was killed in June 2006. The letter is reproduced below with some interesting details highlighted in bold.
By the time of the letter, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) had been declared, led by Hamid al-Zawi (Abu Umar al-Baghdadi), and al-Badawi had ostensibly transferred his allegiance to ISI, dissolving al-Qaeda on Iraqi territory. The letter itself bears on the fraught question of IS(IS)’s relations with al-Qaeda “central” (AQC) between 2006 and 2014, when AQC expelled then-ISIS, because, firstly, it shows (again) that communication continued between ISI and AQC even after 2006, and, secondly, that Bin Ladin addressed ISI’s leaders as if they were subordinates.
Bin Ladin instructs al-Badawi to suppress ISI activities in Turkey—this is almost exactly a year after the Turks arrested Nashwan Abdulbaqi (Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi), the final envoy AQC sent to AQM/ISI—unless there is a chance to strike Jewish or Western targets, or he believes he can damage the burgeoning relations between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan. In 2015, after IS’s relations with AQC had been terminated, a similar course was followed: IS played a key role in pushing Turkey back into war by damaging relations between the government and the Kurdish population.
Even more interesting in terms of content is the primary purpose of the letter: to chide ISI for public incitements against the Iranian theocracy. Public attacks against Iran should be avoided, said Bin Ladin, because Iran is al-Qaeda’s “main artery for funds, personnel, and communication”.
Al-Qaeda’s relations with the Islamic Republic have long been known to all who cared to know, and new information—from investigators like Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, whose new book The Exile gives exhaustive detail on the arrangements made for the Iranian revolution to protect senior al-Qaeda officials, and from the Abbottabad documents now that they are all finally public—will continue to add to this picture.
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In the name of God the merciful and compassionate.
Thanks to God, for he promised and delivered, threatened and forgave prayers and peace be upon our master and master of all nobles Muhammad, his family, and his followers the perfect nobles.
Honorable brother Karim, may God protect him. Peace and mercy of God may be upon you. Hope you and all who are with you are in a good cheer, and for God to bring us all together to achieve his will on earth and to win the afterlife.
1) I received your honorable message that was ended abruptly without an ending, signature, and date. I wonder what the cause was for this error; but thank God for including the good news and glad tidings. I ask God to grant us speedy victory and empowerment.
2) I have a few remarks concerning the matter of your threats to Iran, and I hope that you and your brothers will accommodate it:
A) You did not consult with us on that serious issue that affects the general welfare of all of us. We expected you would consult with us for these important matters, for as you are aware, Iran is our main artery for funds, personnel, and communication, as well as the matter of hostages.
B) I don’t understand why you have announced your threats. You could have executed without being threatening; for threats are a tough test for your ability to deliver. And now, the passing of the grace period without carrying out your threats effects the believability of your words, and your threats will be meaningless. I am not trying to provoke you to carry out your threats. On the contrary, I am against being threatening, period. However, I am discussing the matter of “threat announcing,” for it is politically a losing proposition for you.
C) Another matter that I need you to discuss with your brothers, which is the information received indicating that some of the individuals that you are depending on to carry out the threats are not organized or infiltrated. So please re-evaluate the matter.
D) The summary of my opinion on the subject is:
[2D]1) There is no need to fight with Iran, unless you are forced to [Page 2] because of the great harm caused by them, and unless you are able to inflect them with harm. Hence, if you are not in the position to deliver either, then my advice is to refrain from attacking them; and devote your total resource to the fortification of the nation, and the fight against the crusaders and the apostates. It is also my opinion about the other fronts such as Lebanon and the likes.
[2D]2) If you decide on confronting Iran and feel you are able to hurt them, it is my opinion that you do not announce your intentions and threats, instead deliver your strikes in silence, leaving indications or announce that you are responsible for the act, and to protect your reputation in case your plans were not successful. Bear in mind that the negotiation with Iran is easier if the incurred damages are great. This is my opinion and God knows the correct course of action.
[2D]3) Another issue that is closely related to the previous one’ is the taking of Iranian hostages for negotiation. I suggest starting the negotiation on exchanging the person that I have asked to receive the file on his statements, which I have not received yet, or any other person, for our captives, specifically the ones sentenced to death or to a long term incarceration in their countries.
[2D]4) Regarding the issue of not attacking the dissenter by her name; the issue is under discussion among the brethren and I, and my position is the collective decision for the group and not just my own. We associated the matter with receiving hostages from them for it will give us great latitude in confronting them. In general the discussion is still progressively ongoing. The other issue is the attack on my brothers with Abu al-Yazid, and with you. These statements represent and bind us. Hence I was not tasked with it, but it is the opinion of the brothers that I handle the matter indirectly observing the developments. That was the collective opinion of your brothers, and God knows what’s right.
[2D]5) Regarding Turkey; it is my opinion that our work in Turkey not be tied to the reactions to our works, but is based on the situations advantages and disadvantages, hence I suggest the suppression of activities unless there is a chance for a large operation against the Jews or the Crusaders, and only after your determination of the advantages and disadvantages. And perhaps the deterioration between them and Kurdistan is beneficial to you, God knows.
[2D]6) Regarding sending you brothers; the problem is the road.
[2D]7) Hajji Harun said he has reached an agreement with you to work in your two countries. Please provide me with the details of the agreement, for I need to understand it, and God bless you.
[2D]8) Lastly, I leave you in the custody of God. Destroy this message after reading, peace, your loving brother.
18 October 2007