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CIA Releases New Documents Seized In 2011 Bin Laden Raid


We are closely watching results of the Super Tuesday states. Hillary Clinton is the projected winner of the Democratic primaries in Virginia and Georgia. It looks like Bernie Sanders will take Vermont. The Associated Press has not yet called any of the Republican races, but we will bring you the latest as soon as they do. We are also watching the story of the declassification of Osama bin Laden's will by the CIA.


It's just one page, handwritten in Arabic, and it claims he had $29 million stashed in Sudan. Now, this will is one of the many documents that Navy SEALs grabbed when they raided bin Laden's compound back in 2011. U.S. spy agencies have been pouring over the papers ever since, and today, they released 113 of them to the public. NPR's Mary Louise Kelly has been working her way through them. She joins me in the studio now. And, Mary Louise, let's start with that will. What exactly does it say?

MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: Well, it says bin Laden would like that $29 million spent on jihad. He leaves a few token amounts to relatives, his sisters, for example. But he wants to spend the money on holy war. Now, that is if - and it's a big if - if he actually had millions stashed away. That will is believed to date from the 1990s. Investigators have never been able to figure out what happened to bin Laden's fortune. And that document is - obviously predates his death by more than a decade if it was in fact written when he was in Sudan. That is in contrast, Audie, to most of the documents released today, which are more recent from the last year or two of bin Laden's life.

CORNISH: Right, we mentioned upwards 113. What do these papers tell us about bin Laden's, say, state of mind or at least the state of al-Qaida at the time of his death?

KELLY: I think they convey a disconnect between a man who was still dreaming big. He was still looking for pilots, for example, for the next big attack. He was planning a media blitz to mark the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, even as he clearly understood that the net was closing in on him. There is one telling message to a man identified as sheikh Mahmoud (ph) who is apparently moving ransom money to a prisoner, and bin Laden cautions him. He says don't move the money except on a cloudy, overcast day because he understood that CIA drones couldn't see as well on a cloudy, overcast day as on a clear one. He tells this sheikh once you get the money, dump the suitcase because they might have put a tracking chip inside it. So clearly he understood time was running out.

CORNISH: Now, is - do they shed any light on, say, the current state of al-Qaida, for instance, any clues as to where bin Laden's successor may be hiding?

KELLY: Alas, no clues to where Ayman al-Zawahiri may be hiding. What they do shed light on is the break that was to come between al-Qaida and the group that became ISIS. Back in 2011, of course, when bin Laden was killed, there was no ISIS, but there was this group al-Qaida in Iraq. And these docs do shed - these documents do shed some new light on the anger that bin Laden felt over that group's brutality, that group's determination to create an actual territory, a physical Islamic State, which is, of course, what ISIS went on to do.

CORNISH: So then what is the value, right, of this cache of documents now, especially - Osama bin Laden has been dead since 2011?

KELLY: Right, five years now. I mean, they shed light, of course, into a man who was the focus of what was perhaps the biggest manhunt in U.S. history. Also I think, Audie, they shed light into how influential he remains. You know, this - the focus on the far enemy, the focus on attacking the U.S. and Europe, that was bin Laden. That was his call to action. And when you read these documents, you hear his voice still coming through in the videos and online statements that are being put out by radical groups today.

CORNISH: That's NPR's national security correspondent Mary Louise Kelly. Thank you.

KELLY: You're welcome, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.