Osama bin Laden aspired to damage the United States not only through persistent terror attacks, but also by attempting to inflame race and class tensions in hopes of tearing down the country from the inside out, according to officials briefed on the evidence trove recovered from the al Qaeda leader’s Pakistan compound.
According to materials in the cache of documents recovered in the U.S. Navy SEAL raid that brought down the terror leader, bin Laden planned to specifically recruit African-American Muslim converts to carry out attacks on the homeland. The goal was to not only kill and maim in the actual operations, but to create a divisiveness that would cause more damage than al Qaeda could ever hope to do on their own.
“Because there were many blacks in the U.S., he wanted to capitalize on them to further the jihadi cause,” one U.S. official told ABC News. “Al Qaeda sees the black convert community as ripe for recruiting.”
While it has long been known that radical preachers and some prison imams have targeted the convert community for jihad recruitment, the references show core al Qaeda’s keen interest in the tactic.
“This is pretty heady stuff,” another person briefed on the material said.
But it’s also strategy that civil rights activist and President of the National Action Network Rev. Al Sharpton said was “radical” and outrageous.
“I think it would be the most cynical abuse of African-Americans and America in general,” Sharpton told ABC News. “Remember, Osama bin Laden killed blacks, whites, Latinos, everyone on 9/11… For him to use race relations in the U.S. in a way to support his terroristic barbarism is the absolute height of cynicism.”
Minority groups have previously suffered in the aftermath of terror attacks or attempted attacks, though most of those incidents have been directed at Muslim-Americans. Ibrahim Hooper, National Communications Director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said those incidents are not indicative of the American people and any belief by bin Laden that he could prompt widespread violence in such a way between any groups was a “fantasy.”
“I think the viewpoint reflects more of a Neo-Nazi, white supremacist outlook on American whites than anything based in reality,” he said. “I think it’s fantasy based on a fundamental misunderstanding of American society.”
Still, Sharpton said that the revelation about al Qaeda’s targeting of minorities should serve “not as a wake-up call as much as a tap on the shoulder” to minority leaders.
If racial tensions have created a vulnerability in U.S. national security, Sharpton said, “it becomes the responsibility for those of us in black leadership and activism to make sure that we carefully monitor who we let in our ranks and for what… and try to understand that we cannot be exploited as we try to stop the continuing injustices.”
In the past, officials believed al Qaeda attempted to recruit fair-skinned European or Americans jihadis.
It is unclear just how active bin Laden was in coordinating any operations or in blessing overall strategies and plots, but one official said he appeared to see himself as something of a “coach” to al Qaeda.
What is clear, officials said, is that intelligence analysts see weeks ahead of data mining and linking the cache of materials to past knowledge of plots that has come from detainees, cases and various forms of intercepts and surveillance.
Analysts have yet to uncover any specific, imminent terror plots, but documents did reveal al Qaeda had considered an attack on the U.S. rail system on Sept. 11, the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.
A bulletin issued Thursday by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security and obtained by ABC News describes the terror organization’s chilling desire to derail a train on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.
“As of February 2010, al-Qa’ida was allegedly contemplating conducting an operation against trains at an unspecified location in the United States on the 10th anniversary of September 11, 2001,” the document reads, using an alternate spelling for bin Laden’s terror group. “As one option, al-Qa’ida was looking into trying to tip a train by tampering with the rails so that the train would fall off the track at either a valley or a bridge.”
In a statement, DHS press secretary Matt Chandler stressed that the message it sent out to its rail partners about a potential al Qaeda plot was “based on initial reporting, which is often misleading and inaccurate and subject to change. We remain at a heightened state of vigilance, but do not intend to issue [a National Terrorism Advisory System] alert at this time.” Chandler said the Transportation Security Administration would also send a bulletin to its rail sector stakeholders.
“We have no information of any imminent terrorist threat to the U.S. rail sector, but wanted to make our partners aware of the alleged plotting,” said Chandler.