WASHINGTON (CN) – The CIA’s release of documents seized during the 2011 raid that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden appears to bolster U.S. claims that Iran supported the extremist network leading up to the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
U.S. intelligence officials and prosecutors have long said Iran formed loose ties to the terror organization from 1991 on, something noted in a 19-page al-Qaida report in Arabic that was included in the release of some 47,000 other documents by the CIA.
For its part, Iran has long denied any involvement with al-Qaida. However, the report included in the CIA document dump shows how bin Laden, a Sunni extremist from Iran’s archrival Saudi Arabia, could look across the Muslim world’s religious divide to partner with the Mideast’s Shiite power to target his ultimate enemy, the United States.
“Anyone who wants to strike America, Iran is ready to support him and help him with their frank and clear rhetoric,” the report reads.
The CIA on Monday released a trove of information that U.S. Special Forces recovered during the May 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
The batch of 470,000 files includes images, videos, documents, audio and software operating system files. Bin Laden’s 228-page personal journal is among the cache of files, along with pictures and videos of bin Laden’s son Hamza, who is being groomed as an al-Qaida leader.
The files offer insight into al-Qaida’s global leadership, and contain evidence of Iran’s support for the group’s war with the United States, according to analysis by the nonprofit Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which received an advance copy of many of the files from the CIA.
Although a contentious relationship existed between Iran and al-Qaida, the files show that Iran had facilitated travel for some al-Qaida operatives and offered shelter to others, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies said.
According to the nonprofit, bin Laden explained in his journal that he wanted al-Qaida to capitalize on the Arab Spring uprisings, and moved quickly to establish operations in places like Libya.
The files also show that al-Qaida has adapted, and explain how the group was able to groom supporters from South Asia to West Africa, spreading its presence into places that would have been unthinkable in 2001 before 9/11 and the launch of the war on terror.
Senior fellows with the non-profit, including Bill Roggio, had been pushing for the release of the files since the May 2, 2011 raid that killed bin Laden.
“These documents will go a long way to help fill in some of the blanks we still have about al Qaeda’s leadership,” Roggio said in a statement, using an alternative spelling of the terror group. “We have reported on the previous releases of the documents seized from bin Laden’s compound and have learned a great deal about al Qaeda’s ties to the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, and its relationships with Iran and Pakistan,” he continued. “These documents will keep us busy for years to come.”
The nonprofit did not immediately respond to a request for comment about its analysis of the files.
The CIA said it released the them in accordance with the 2014 Intelligence Authorization Act, which required the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to review them for release.
The CIA said it withheld some materials that could be damaging to national security, as well as pornography and material protected by copyright.
CIA director Mike Pompeo praised the release in a statement.
“Today’s release of recovered al-Qa‘ida letters, videos, audio files and other materials provides the opportunity for the American people to gain further insights into the plans and workings of this terrorist organization,” Pompeo said. “CIA will continue to seek opportunities to share information with the American people consistent with our obligation to protect national security.”
The files analyzed by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies show that contrary to previous belief, bin Laden retained a prominent role in al-Qaida until the day he was killed. In the last few months of his life, he maintained communications with subordinates around the world.
The files also show that al-Qaida was far more cohesive than believed in 2011, and oversaw al-Shabaab in Somalia, al-Qaida groups in the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa, and the Pakistani Taliban.
Among the files are also images of bin Laden’s son Hamza, including videos from his wedding where his face as a young adult was revealed for the first time. Al-Qaida has been unwilling to release pictures of Hamza, and although not current, the images contained in the files provide the most recent pictures of him.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.