Bin Laden Guided Al-Qaeda From Lair as Plot Against Americans Is Uncovered

Osama bin Laden helped to guide the tactics, strategy and operations of al-Qaeda while holed up in his compound in Pakistan, according to an initial analysis of material seized during the attack that killed him, a U.S. official said.

The review of the materials also uncovered a handwritten note showing that the terrorist group in February 2010 was considering attacks on American railroads, a second U.S. official said.

The comments of the first U.S. official contradict previous U.S. views of the al-Qaeda leader as more of an ideological and symbolic figure. For years, intelligence officials have said that bin Laden, isolated by U.S. efforts to track him down, had ceded operational responsibilities to al-Qaeda’s No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

The New York Times reported bin Laden’s hands-on involvement yesterday.

Al-Qaeda also confirmed bin Laden’s death and threatened to retaliate against the U.S.

“We will continue to hunt the Americans and their operatives inside and outside their country,” the group said in a statement dated May 3 and posted on websites that have carried confirmed jihadist statements in the past. “Soon by God’s help, their happiness will be turned to grief and their tears will be mixed with their blood,” the statement said.

Disrupting Railways

The plot to disrupt the railways was to mark the 10th anniversary of al-Qaeda’s Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S., a third U.S. official said. On that date, al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four passenger jets -- flying two of them into the World Trade Center in New York, destroying the twin towers, and sending a third into the Pentagon, just across the Potomac River from Washington. A fourth plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania as passengers fought with the hijackers. Almost 3,000 people were killed in the attacks.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued an alert to local law enforcement officials yesterday that said the agency had uncovered the information about the railway attacks. The notice said the federal agency had no intelligence that there was “any further planning” conducted since February of last year.

The information was obtained from material taken by Navy SEALs in the raid on the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, that killed bin Laden, a fourth U.S. official said. U.S. commandos seized computer drives and other material from the compound where bin Laden had been staying.

No Imminent Threat

The four U.S. officials, lacking authorization to speak publicly, requested anonymity.

The U.S. has found nothing indicating any imminent threat, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

The information suggests that al-Qaeda leaders didn’t go beyond the idea stage in formulating the rail plot, said the first U.S. official.

As of February 2010, al-Qaeda was considering tampering with an unspecified U.S. rail track so that a train would fall off the track at a valley or a bridge, the Associated Press said, citing a Homeland Security intelligence warning sent to law enforcement officials yesterday. The warning was marked for “official use only,” the AP reported.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeff Bliss in Washington at jbliss@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net

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