When Seal Team Six raided the Osama Bin Laden compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan on May 2, 2011, they didn’t just kill the al Qaeda leader. As time is running out to leave the scene before the Pakistani military arrives, they quickly took away a treasure of his personal belongings. The United States Central Intelligence Agency has since made much of these documents available to the public. Bin Laden’s personal possessions paint a more complete picture of the psyche of the notorious – and notoriously secretive – leader behind the 9/11 attacks. Here are nine unexpected things discovered inside Osama Bin Laden’s compound and what they reveal about the founder of the international terrorist network Al-Qaeda.
Bin Laden’s carefully guarded emails
Despite the lack of Internet access or telephone lines in the compound, “it would be too great a risk for his personal safety,” says Bill Roggio de Long War Diary—Osama bin Laden was a writer and prolific communicator of his self-imposed isolation. Using couriers, he would save e-mail correspondence to a flash drive, which the courier would then send from an internet cafe.
Navy SEALs have retrieved about 100 of these drives, which reveal that bin Laden was involved in critical al Qaeda operations even after world leadership assumed its responsibilities had transferred to Ayman al-Zawahri. “The emails showed that bin Laden had not given up operational or strategic control,” says Roggio, who obtained prior access to many bin Laden files before the CIA made them public. “He gave orders and was briefed on reports, promotions, reassignments, strategy, and ideological issues like fatwahs and religious decisions.”
READ MORE: How the Sixth SEAL Team took out Osama Bin Laden
Bin Laden Diary
The SEAL team also recovered his 228-page journal, which records the thoughts he expressed to his family members between February and April 2011. (It is not known exactly how many people were living in the compound at the time of the raid, but the setting is known to have included several of his wives, as well as several children and grandchildren, as well as his couriers and their families.) Believed to have been recorded for him by one of his daughters, the newspaper revealed his thoughts on the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings in several Muslim-majority countries and his vision of Al-Qaeda’s place in world politics: “This chaos and the lack of leadership in revolutions is the best environment to spread the thoughts and ideas of Al Qaeda, ”the newspaper said.
Wedding video of her son Hamza
The raid also uncovered a family video of the wedding of bin Laden’s son Hamza bin Laden in Iran. “The only photo we had of Hamza before the video came out was of him as a child. Hamza was prepared for a leadership position, so seeing him as an adult was very valuable, ”says Roggio.
The wedding guest list was also revealing, as it included several members of Al Qaeda’s inner circle. Hamza married the daughter of Abu Muhammad Al-Masri, another leader of Al Qaeda, and among the guests was Mohammed Showqi al-Islambouli, whose brother Khalid assassinated former Egyptian President Anwar-el Sadat. Hamza bin Laden was killed in 2019.
READ MORE: The historic story of SEAL Team Six, the secret unit that killed Bin Laden
A series of video games downloaded and recorded on compound computers suggest that Osama bin Laden or someone else who lived on the compound was an avid gamer. CIA files released after the 2011 raid showed that the Al Qaeda leader downloaded popular games like Half-Life, Super Mario Bros., Yoshi’s Island DS, Final Fantasy VII, Dragon ball z, and Counter strike, a game where multiple players team up to take hostages while pushing back counterterrorism efforts.
WATCH: How Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda Planned 9/11
Videos of bin Laden practicing at public speeches
While escaping authorities, the fugitive leader released a number of pre-recorded videos to subscribers. Drive rollers were discovered in the enclosure. “Live streaming is a traceable activity, so it pre-records messages and delivers them to a courier for delivery,” says Roggio. “Recording these videos in advance allowed him to carefully control his public image.”
READ MORE: The manufacture of a SEAL
It’s strange to think that the mastermind behind the deaths of thousands would have Disney movies in its hiding place, but several have been found within the Abbottabad compound, including Antz, Cars, Little chicken and Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. Her four youngest children were under 10 at the time of her death.
A few items from the hiding place have never been made public, including the large bin Laden pornographic collection. According to Reuters, “The pornography retrieved from the Abbottabad compound consists of modern electronically recorded video and is quite extensive.” Several Freedom of Information requests for the disclosure of the files have been denied, so their exact content remains a mystery.
WATCH: Revealed: The Hunt for Bin Laden, premiering Sunday, May 2 at 8/7 a.m. on HISTORY®:
Documentaries about himself
Osama bin Laden, the subject of thousands of press articles and multiple documentaries, apparently had a great curiosity for his public image. After his death, authorities found several films about him on his computer, including Biography – Osama Bin Laden and the humorous documentary of 2008 Where is Osama Bin Laden in the world?
Its library, including books on conspiracy theories
Osama Bin Laden’s personal library was full of surprises. He owned several books on American military and diplomatic history such as that by Bob Woodward. Obama Wars, Noam Chomsky’s Necessary illusions: thought control in democratic societies and Robert Hopkins Miller’s The United States and Vietnam 1787-1941. “It was important for him to understand his enemy and his way of thinking,” says Roggio. The complex also housed books on popular 9/11 conspiracy theories, the Committee of 300, and the Illuminati.
WATCH: 9/11 Documentaries on HISTORY Vault