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Tuesday, June 25, 2024 | Back issues
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Bin Laden’s Mail Weakens Suspect’s Defense

MANHATTAN (CN) - Roughly 12 years after he allegedly helped bomb two U.S. Embassies in East Africa, a Libyan facing trial for those terrorist attacks sent Osama bin Laden a letter greeting him as "My dear brother / Good Sheikh," prosecutors say.

"May Allah bless us, you and I . . . safety [be bestowed] upon those who support him and war on his enemies," Abu Anas al-Libi allegedly told the late al-Qaida leader on Oct. 13, 2010.

This letter appeared in the vast intelligence trove that the United States unearthed in its May 2, 2011, raid of bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Authorities did not apprehend Al-Libi for his alleged role in the Embassy bombings, however, until 2013.

With his federal trial in New York now weeks away, prosecutors filed a blockbuster, 30-page brief Monday that seeks to undermine the Libyan's central defense with the admission of the Abbottabad letters linking al-Libi and bin Laden.

Al-Libi allegedly scouted the targets of U.S. Embassy bombings that killed 224 people and injured thousands in 1998. But he always maintained that he did not know or share al-Qaida's goals during what he insisted was a brief affiliation with the group.

The six letters dated between June 2010 and April 2011 paint a very different picture.

The first, dated June 19, 2010, came from bin Laden's "chief deputy, Atiyah," and refers to al-Libi as "the last brothers to come from Iran," prosecutors say.

Al-Libi spent roughly eight years incarcerated in Iran, before his release to Libya shortly after this letter.

Atiyah wrote that he "directed" al-Libi to "work with the brothers in the security committee," the brief states.

"I told them [the members of al Qaeda's security committee] to sit with him [the defendant] and introduce to him the work and the world, etc.," the letter states (brackets in original). "It is normal for any person after a long absence, especially in jail, that he needs some time to figure out how things work."

Atiyah then told bin Laden that al-Libi "asks about you [bin Laden] a lot and wants reassurance about you," the memo states.

"We reassured him [the defendant] and told him about your letters and that you follow his news through us [al Qaeda's leadership, including Atiyah]. If you can consider sending him a letter, he will really appreciate it." (Brackets in original)

Al-Libi allegedly wrote his "Good Sheikh" four months later, in a letter naming other al-Qaida members under indictment in New York, including "Sheikh Sulaiman Abu Ghaith," "Abu Mohammad al Masri" and "Saif al Adel."

Abu Ghaith, bin Laden's son-in-law, received a life sentence for acting as al-Qaida's propagandist after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Accused Embassy bombing co-conspirators al-Adel and Al-Masri, whose real name is Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, remain at large.

Al-Libi allegedly wrote: "I ask God to reunite me with you soon under the banner of Islam and the Islamic state and the banner of jihad," and signed his letter, "Your forever lover, Your Brother Abu Abd al Rahman Anas al Subai'i."

That alleged al-Libi pseudonym appeared in a letter that Atiyah wrote to bin Laden a month later, recommending "brother Anas Subai'i" as one of four people to take on al-Qaida leadership duties.

Prosecutors also allege that al-Libi penned an April 2011 letter "conveyed" to bin Laden under another alias, "Abdul Qayoom."

The evidence connecting "Abdul Qayoom" to al-Libi comes from a letter the following month, the motion indicates.

"Brother Anas Subai'i al Liby and others asked for permission to go to Libya ... I'm including a letter from Anas (whose name here is Abdul Qayoom), he wrote it to Abu Yahya and Abu Yahya sent it to me," Atiyeh wrote bin Laden in March (parentheses in original).

Atiyeh complained in this letter that al-Libi broke al-Qaida security protocol by "contacting his family in Libya, despite knowing that we don't allow any communications, and he knows that he was wanted by the Americans ... etc. he contacted them via phone repeatedly!"

Although Al-Libi is not charged for any of his alleged involvement with al-Qaida following the 1998 Embassy bombings, these letters get to the heart of the Libyan's motive to commit the 16-year-old crime, prosecutors say.

"In 2010 and 2011, the defendant had both the means, and the motivation, to communicate directly with Osama bin Laden - then the most wanted man in the world," the motion states. "That fact, standing alone, is highly relevant to the question of whether the defendant knowingly and intentionally participated with bin Laden and others in the conspiracies led by bin Laden to bomb and kill Americans during the charged period."

Such evidence is especially important because Al-Libi "flatly denied even knowing that al-Qaida was targeting the United States," prosecutors note.

If accepted, this evidence would not be the first time a terror suspect's communications dating after an alleged offense came back to haunt him.

Earlier this year, London-based radical cleric Abu Hamza lost his attempt to suppress statements he made praising al-Qaida and bin Laden long after his participation in a 1999 hostage-taking in Yemen.

Prosecutors cited that case in their brief.

Al-Libi's lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.

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