Osama bin Laden had been “very eager to replicate the 9/11 attacks” against the US — and actively plotted to blow up oil tankers, derail trains and use private jets as weapons, according to a trove of seized documents.
The plots were spelled out in more than 500,000 letters and files seized by the Navy SEAL team that executed the mass-murdering al Qaeda leader in 2011, according to Nelly Lahoud, an Islamic scholar who spent years carefully studying the trove.
They show that the terrorist was “very eager to replicate the 9/11 attacks in the United States,” Lahoud, a senior fellow in New America’s International Security program, told “60 Minutes.”
Bin Laden was “mindful” that security had become “very difficult at airports” after his monstrous Sept. 11 attacks — and so told his henchmen to instead consider chartering private jets to attack the US.
Knowing that would be difficult, too, he also spelled out a detailed plan to slaughter American commuters on a train.
He wanted to have around 40 feet of track removed so that a “train could be derailed,” said Lahoud, who first analyzed the documents for West Point’s Combatting Terrorism Center.
“And we find him explaining the simple toolkit that they could use. You know, he said, ‘You could use a compressor. You could use a smelting iron tool,’” she said, noting how bin Laden had a degree in civil engineering.
The plots were detailed in letters from 2004, according to Lahoun — who said the “diminutive”-sounding terrorist was so scared in hiding after Sept. 11 that he did not communicate with his henchmen for three years.
In 2010, a year before his death, bin Laden plotted to target multiple crude oil tankers and major shipping routes around the Middle East and Africa.
Bin Laden saw “the importance of oil for the industrialized economy” as “similar to blood for human beings,” Lahoud said.
“So, if you cause somebody to bleed excessively, even if you don’t kill him you will at least weaken him,” she said.
“He really wanted to do to the American economy,” she said.
In his letters, he detailed how “the boats need to carry a large volume of explosives, preferably placed in an arch position, facing the vessel,” the Islamic scholar said.
They showed that bin Laden was “very methodical” and didn’t “want to leave anything to chance,” she said.
The plans were never carried out, and bin Laden came across as “far from” in control of al Qaeda, Lahoud said, stressing that the letters made clear he was “absolutely not” calling the shots.
“We see in the letters diminutive bin Laden, somebody who is very different from this powerful figure that we were reading about daily in the newspapers for over a decade,” she said.
“And the disconnect between his ambitions and between his capabilities is confounding.”
This was in part down to a “huge miscalculation” in how bin Laden predicted the US would respond to losing thousands on Sept. 11.
“He thought that the American people would take to the streets, replicate the anti-Vietnam war protests and they would put pressure on their government to withdraw from Muslim majority states,” she said, with the letters showing he expected at most “a limited airstrike.”
The docs also showed that al Qaeda had just $200,000 in its coffers in 2006 and was unable to support its increasingly fractious jihad, the report said.
Bin Laden relied on letters — which were backed up onto hard drives — because he did not have access to the internet while he cowered in hiding, “60 Minutes” reported.
It was left to his associates to spell out just how doomed his terror organization had become.
Lahoud read out a letter from one associate, named Tawfiq, in which he warned his leader, “The weakness, failure, and aimlessness that befell us were harrowing.”
The publication of the documents was a posthumous blow to the terrorist, too, Lahoud said.
“Bin Laden’s greatest fear was about exposing al Qaeda’s secrets. And so the fact that the SEALs decided to recover these letters ensured that al Qaeda’s secrets were exposed,” she said.
The letters also showed the important role women played in bin Laden’s operations, at odds with the public face eschewing their roles, she said.
“The people who really worked on Osama’s public statements were mostly his daughters, Miriam and Sumaiya,” Lahoud said.
“It was surprising to me. In the world of al Qaeda, and of jihadism broadly, women are not part of the public face of jihad.”